Rho-A prenylation and signaling link epithelial homeostasis to intestinal inflammation

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Although defects in intestinal barrier function are a key pathogenic factor in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), the molecular pathways driving disease-specific alterations of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) are largely unknown. Here, we addressed this issue by characterizing the transcriptome of IECs from IBD patients using a genome-wide approach. We observed disease-specific alterations in IECs with markedly impaired Rho-A signaling in active IBD patients. Localization of epithelial Rho-A was shifted to the cytosol in IBDs, and inflammation was associated with suppressed Rho-A activation due to reduced expression of the Rho-A prenylation enzyme geranylgeranyltransferase-I (GGTase-I). Functionally, we found that mice with conditional loss of Rhoa or the gene encoding GGTase-I, Pggt1b, in IECs exhibit spontaneous chronic intestinal inflammation with accumulation of granulocytes and CD4+ T cells. This phenotype was associated with cytoskeleton rearrangement and aberrant cell shedding, ultimately leading to loss of epithelial integrity and subsequent inflammation. These findings uncover deficient prenylation of Rho-A as a key player in the pathogenesis of IBDs. As therapeutic triggering of Rho-A signaling suppressed intestinal inflammation in mice with GGTase-I–deficient IECs, our findings suggest new avenues for treatment of epithelial injury and mucosal inflammation in IBD patients.

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