Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder with rising incidence. Diseased tissues are heavily vascularized. Surprisingly, the pathogenic impact of the vasculature in IBD and the underlying regulatory mechanisms remain largely unknown. IFN-γ is a major cytokine in IBD pathogenesis, but in the context of the disease, it is almost exclusively its immune-modulatory and epithelial cell–directed functions that have been considered. Recent studies by our group demonstrated that IFN-γ also exerts potent effects on blood vessels. Based on these considerations, we analyzed the vessel-directed pathogenic functions of IFN-γ and found that it drives IBD pathogenesis through vascular barrier disruption. Specifically, we show that inhibition of the IFN-γ response in vessels by endothelial-specific knockout of IFN-γ receptor 2 ameliorates experimentally induced colitis in mice. IFN-γ acts pathogenic by causing a breakdown of the vascular barrier through disruption of the adherens junction protein VE-cadherin. Notably, intestinal vascular barrier dysfunction was also confirmed in human IBD patients, supporting the clinical relevance of our findings. Treatment with imatinib restored VE-cadherin/adherens junctions, inhibited vascular permeability, and significantly reduced colonic inflammation in experimental colitis. Our findings inaugurate the pathogenic impact of IFN-γ–mediated intestinal vessel activation in IBD and open new avenues for vascular-directed treatment of this disease.
Victoria Langer, Eugenia Vivi, Daniela Regensburger, Thomas H. Winkler, Maximilian J. Waldner, Timo Rath, Benjamin Schmid, Lisa Skottke, Somin Lee, Noo Li Jeon, Thomas Wohlfahrt, Viktoria Kramer, Philipp Tripal, Michael Schumann, Stephan Kersting, Claudia Handtrack, Carol I. Geppert, Karina Suchowski, Ralf H. Adams, Christoph Becker, Andreas Ramming, Elisabeth Naschberger, Nathalie Britzen-Laurent, Michael Stürzl