The single-epithelial cell layer of the gut mucosa serves as an essential barrier between the host and luminal microflora and plays a major role in innate immunity against invading pathogens. Nuclear factor kB (NF-κB), a central component of the cellular signaling machinery, regulates immune response and inflammation. NF-κB proteins are activated by signaling pathways downstream to microbial recognition receptors and cytokines receptors. Highly regulated NF-κB activity in intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) is essential for normal gut homeostasis; dysregulated activity has been linked to a number of disease states, including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn's Disease (CD). Our aim was to visualize and quantify spatial and temporal dynamics of NF-κB activity in steady state and inflamed human gut. Lentivirus technology was used to transduce the IEC of human gut xenografts in SCID mice with a NF-κB luminescence reporter system. NF-κB signaling was visualized and quantified using low resolution, intravital imaging of the whole body and high resolution, immunofluorescence microscopic imaging of the tissues. We show that NF-κB is activated in select subset of IEC with low “leaky” NF-κB activity. These unique inflammatory epithelial cells are clustered in the gut into discrete hotspots of NF-κB activity that are visible in steady state and selectively activated by systemic LPS and human TNFα or luminal bacteria. The presence of inflammatory hotspots in the normal and inflamed gut might explain the patchy mucosal lesions characterizing CD and thus could have important implications for diagnosis and therapy.
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© 2021 Nissim-Eliraz et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.