Chronic colitis is associated with decreased colonic muscle contraction and loss of mucosal barrier function. Pro-inflammatory cytokines and bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) are important in the generation and maintenance of inflammation. While colitis is associated with upregulated COX-2 -derived prostanoids and nitric oxide (NO), the direct activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines on human colonic neuromuscular function is less clear. This study investigated the effects of IBD-associated pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-17, TNF-α, IL-1β and LPS on human colonic muscle strip contractility, alone and following inhibition of COX-2 or nitric oxide production. In addition, human colonic epithelial Caco-2 cell monolayers were treated with LPS or COX-2 mediators including prostaglandins (PGE2, PGF2α) or their corresponding ethanolamides (PGE2-EA or PGF2α-EA) over 48 h and trans-epithelial electrical resistance used to record permeability changes. Longitudinal muscle strips were obtained from healthy colonic resection margins and mounted in organ baths following IL-17, TNF-α, IL-1β and bacterial LPS incubations in an explant setting over 20 h. Contraction in response to acetylcholine (ACh) was then measured, before and after either COX-2 inhibition (nimesulide; 10−5 M) or nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibition (l-NNA; 10−4 M). None of the cytokine or LPS explant incubations affected the potency or maximum cholinergic contraction in vitro, and subsequent COX-2 blockade with nimesulide revealed a significant but similar decrease in potency of ACh-evoked contraction in control, LPS and cytokine-incubated muscle strips. Pre-treatment with l-NNA provided no functional differences in the potency or maximum contractile responses to ACh in cytokine or LPS-incubated colonic longitudinal smooth muscle. Only PGE2 transiently increased Caco-2 monolayer permeability at 24 h, while LPS (10 μg/ml) increased permeability over 24–48 h.
These findings indicate that cholinergic contractility in the human colon can be decreased by the blockade of COX-2 generated excitatory prostanoids, but major pro-inflammatory cytokines or LPS do not alter the sensitivity or amplitude of this contraction ex vivo. While PGE2 transiently increase epithelial permeability, LPS generates a significant and sustained increase in permeability indicative of an important role on barrier function at the mucosal interface.