A new paradigm for GERD pathogenesis. Not acid injury, but cytokine-mediated inflammation driven by HIF-2α: a potential role for targeting HIF-2α to prevent and treat reflux esophagitis
Traditionally, reflux esophagitis was assumed to develop as a caustic, chemical injury inflicted by refluxed acid. Recently, however, studies in rats and humans suggest that reflux esophagitis develops as a cytokine-mediated inflammatory injury, with hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-2α playing a major role. In response to the reflux of acid and bile, HIF-2α in esophageal epithelial cells becomes stabilized, thereby increasing production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that attract T lymphocytes and other inflammatory cells to damage the esophagus. Recent studies have identified small molecule inhibitors of HIF-2α that demonstrate exquisite isoform selectivity, and clinical trials for treatment of HIF-2α-driven kidney cancers are ongoing. It is conceivable that a HIF-2α-directed therapy might be a novel approach to prevention and treatment of reflux esophagitis.