Background Breast milk has a heterogeneous composition that differs between mothers and changes throughout the first weeks after birth. The proinflammatory cytokine IL-23 has a highly variable expression in human breast milk. We hypothesize that IL-23 found in human breast milk is biologically active and promotes epithelial barrier dysfunction. Methods The immature rat small intestinal epithelial cell line, IEC-18, was grown on cell inserts or standard cell culture plates. Confluent cultures were exposed to human breast milk with high or low levels of IL-23 and barrier function was measured using a flux of fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran (FD-70). In addition, protein and mRNA expression of occludin and ZO-1 were measured and immunofluorescence used to stain occludin and ZO-1. Results Exposure to breast milk with high levels of IL-23 caused an increase flux of FD-70 compared with both controls and breast milk with low levels of IL-23. The protein expression of ZO-1 but not occludin was decreased by exposure to high levels of IL-23. These results correlate with immunofluorescent staining of ZO-1 and occludin which show decreased staining of occludin in both the groups exposed to breast milk with high and low IL-23. Conversely, cells exposed to high IL-23 breast milk had little peripheral staining of ZO-1 compared with controls and low IL-23 breast milk. Conclusion IL-23 in human breast milk is biologically active and negatively affects the barrier function of intestinal epithelial cells through the degradation of tight junction proteins.
- gut barrier
- necrotizing enterocolitis
- tight junctions
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health