American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology vol:306 issue:8 pages:G641-9
Barrett's esophagus is characterized by a distinct Th2-predominant cytokine profile (IL-4) from in vivo or ex vivo evidence. The detailed role of cytokines in Barrett's esophagus, particularly whether Th2 cytokines are causative factors driving metaplastic processes, remains unknown. In this study, air-liquid interface-cultured human esophageal epithelial cells were stimulated by a Th2 cytokine, IL-4, and Th1 cytokines, TNF-α and IL-1β, continuously for 10 days. Barrier function was determined by transepithelial electrical resistance. Morphological changes were investigated by hematoxylin and eosin staining. Keratin profile (keratin 7, 8, 13, and 14) and squamous differentiation markers (involucrin) were investigated by RT-quantitative PCR, Western blotting, and immunohistochemical staining. Pharmacological inhibitors were used to identify the underlying cellular signaling. We report that IL-4, TNF-α, and IL-1β decrease barrier function, but only IL-4 significantly increases cell layers and changes cell morphology. IL-4 time dependently downregulates the expression levels of the squamous cell markers involucrin and keratin 13 and upregulates the expression levels of the columnar cell markers keratin 7 and 8. Neither TNF-α nor IL-1β shows any effect on these indexes. JAK inhibitor I and PI3K inhibitors significantly block the IL-4-induced changes in the levels of keratin 8 and 13. In conclusion, IL-4 inhibits squamous differentiation program of esophageal epithelial cells and induces differentiation toward columnar cells through the JAK/PI3K pathway. Thus IL-4 may be involved in the early stages of Barrett's esophagus development.