Ulcer-associated cell lineage expresses genes involved in regeneration and is hallmarked by high neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL) levels
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionJournal of Pathology. 2019, 248, 1-10. 10.1002/path.5258
Neutrophil gelatinase‐associated lipocalin (NGAL), also known as Lipocalin 2, is an antimicrobial protein, encoded by the gene LCN2, strongly upregulated in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and a promising biomarker for IBD. Here we demonstrate that NGAL is highly expressed in all parts of pyloric metaplasia, also known as the ulcer‐associated cell lineage (UACL), a metaplastic cell lineage suggested to play a role in wound healing in Crohn's disease (CD). We further show NGAL expression in regenerative intestinal crypts and in undifferentiated patient‐derived colonoids. This indicates that NGAL is important in the tissue regeneration process. The remarkable overexpression of NGAL in UACL led us to explore the pathobiology of these cells by transcriptome‐wide RNA sequencing. This study is, to our knowledge, the first to characterize the UACL at this level. Biopsies with UACL and inflamed non‐UACL epithelium from the terminal ileum of CD patients and epithelium from healthy controls were laser capture microdissected for RNA sequencing. Among the 180 genes differentially expressed between UACL and control epithelium, the ten most‐upregulated genes specific for UACL were MUC5AC, PGC, MUC6, MUC5B, LCN2, POU2AF1, MUC1, SDC3, IGFBP5, and SLC7A5. PDX1 was among the most upregulated in both UACL and inflamed non‐UACL epithelium. Immunohistochemistry and iDisco 3D visualization was used to characterize UACL histo‐morphologically, and to validate protein expression of 11 selected differentially expressed genes. Among these genes, LCN2, NOTCH2, PHLDA1, IGFBP5, SDC3, BPIFB1, and RCN1 have previously not been linked to UACL. Gene expression results were analyzed for functional implications using MetaCore, showing that differentially expressed genes are enriched for genes involved in cell migration and motility, and for biomarkers of gastrointestinal neoplasia. These results support a role for UACL as part of the reepithelialization process during and after destructive intestinal inflammation. © 2019 The Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.