Effect of genetic background and postinfectious stress on visceral sensitivity inCitrobacter rodentium-infected mice

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Infectious gastroenteritis is a major risk factor to develop postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS). It remains unknown why only a subgroup of infected individuals develops PI-IBS. We hypothesize that immunogenetic predisposition is an important risk factor. Hence, we studied the effect of Citrobacter rodentium infection on visceral sensitivity in Th1-predominant C57BL/6 and Th2-predominant Balb/c mice.


Eight-week-old mice were gavaged with C. rodentium, followed by 1 h of water avoidance stress (WAS) at 5 weeks PI. At 10, 14 days, and 5 weeks PI, samples were assessed for histology and inflammatory gene expression by RT-qPCR. Visceral sensitivity was evaluated by visceromotor response recordings (VMR) to colorectal distension.

Key Results

Citrobacter rodentium evoked a comparable colonic inflammatory response at 14 days PI characterized by increased crypt length and upregulation of Th1/Th17 cytokine mRNA levels (puncorrected < 0.05) in both C57BL/6 and Balb/c mice. At 5 weeks PI, inflammatory gene mRNA levels returned to baseline in both strains. The VMR was maximal at 14 days PI in C57BL/6 (150 ± 47%; p = 0.02) and Balb/c mice (243 ± 52%; p = 0.03). At 3 weeks PI, the VMR remained increased in Balb/c (176 ± 23%; p = 0.02), but returned to baseline in C57BL/6 mice. At 5 weeks PI, WAS could not re-introduce visceral hypersensitivity (VHS).

Conclusions & Inferences

Citrobacter rodentium infection induces transient VHS in C57BL/6 and Balb/c mice, which persisted 1 week longer in Balb/c mice. Although other strain-related differences may contribute, a Th2 background may represent a risk factor for prolonged PI-VHS. As PI-VHS is transient, other factors are crucial for persistent VHS development as observed in PI-IBS.

Visceral hypersensitivity (VHS) is a hallmark of (postinfectious) irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS) but the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. We studied whether immunogenetic background and acute stress in the post-Citrobacter rodentium infectious phase influence the development of VHS and found that Citrobacter rodentium infection induces transient VHS in C57BL/6 and Balb/c mice, which persisted 1 week longer in Balb/c mice. Acute stress in the postinfectious phase did not recreate VHS, irrespective of immunogenetic background.

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