Prenatal inflammation impairs intestinal microvascular development through a TNF-dependent mechanism and predisposes newborn mice to necrotizing enterocolitis

Yan, X.; Managlia, E.; Tan, X. D.; De Plaen, I. G.

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2019 May 28; 317(1):G57-g66


Prenatal inflammation is a risk factor for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and it increases intestinal injury in a rat NEC model. We previously showed that maldevelopment of the intestinal microvasculature and lack of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor 2 (VEGFR2) signaling play a role in experimental NEC. However, whether prenatal inflammation affects the intestinal microvasculature remains unknown. In this study, mouse dams were injected intraperitoneally with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or saline at embryonic day 17. Neonatal intestinal microvasculature density, endothelial cell proliferation, and intestinal VEGF-A and VEGFR2 proteins were assessed in vivo. Maternal and fetal serum TNF concentrations were measured by ELISA. The impact of TNF on the neonatal intestinal microvasculature was examined in vitro and in vivo, and we determined whether prenatal LPS injection exacerbates experimental NEC via TNF. Here we found that prenatal LPS injection significantly decreased intestinal microvascular density, endothelial cell proliferation, and VEGF and VEGFR2 protein expression in neonatal mice. Prenatal LPS injection increased maternal and fetal serum levels of TNF. TNF decreased VEGFR2 protein in vitro in neonatal endothelial cells. Postnatal TNF administration in vivo decreased intestinal microvasculature density, endothelial cell proliferation, and VEGF and VEGFR2 protein expression and increased the incidence of severe NEC. These effects were ameliorated by stabilizing hypoxia-inducible factor-1alpha, the master regulator of VEGF. Furthermore, prenatal LPS injection significantly increased the incidence of severe NEC in our model, and the effect was dependent on endogenous TNF. Our study suggests that prenatal inflammation increases the susceptibility to NEC, downregulates intestinal VEGFR2 signaling, and affects perinatal intestinal microvascular development via a TNF mechanism. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This report provides new evidence that maternal inflammation decreases neonatal intestinal VEGF receptor 2 signaling and endothelial cell proliferation, impairs intestinal microvascular development, and predisposes neonatal mouse pups to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) through inflammatory cytokines such as TNF. Our data suggest that alteration of intestinal microvascular development may be a key mechanism by which premature infants exposed to prenatal inflammation are at risk for NEC and preserving the VEGF/VEGF receptor 2 signaling pathway may help prevent NEC development.

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