Sepsis is an organ dysfunction caused by the imbalance of the body's response to infection (8). In sepsis, the intestine, the first organ involved, was known as both the “initiating organ” and the "target organ" of sepsis (9). The intestinal mucosal barrier, composed of a monolayer of intestinal epithelial cells linked by TJs and a mucus layer mainly secreted by goblet cells, is the first line of defense against pathogenic and non pathogenic microorganisms (10). TJs proteins play an important role in maintaining intercellular connections and the cell barrier. TJs protein occludin is involved in adhesion and maintains the physical properties of the intestinal tract. Claudin-1 forms an ion-selective channel in cells that affects permeability to intercellular substances (11) while the TJs protein ZO-1 binds a variety of cytoskeletal proteins and plays a role in supporting the cytoskeleton (12). In this study, the expressions of the TJs proteins ZO-1, occludin and claudin-1 in the intestinal mucosa were decreased in septic rats, and the pathological morphology of the intestinal mucosa was destroyed, suggesting that sepsis led to the destruction of the morphology of intestinal mucosa, which were similar to our previous research results (3).
Upon intestinal mucosal injury and cells shedding, DAO and FABP2, which are mainly expressed in intestinal mucosal cells, are rapidly released into the blood circulation; thus they can be used as specific markers of intestinal mucosal injury (13). D-LAC is a metabolite of intestinal bacteria and when the permeability of the intestinal mucosa increases, D-LAC enters the blood, and because mammals cannot metabolize D-LAC, an increase in blood D-LAC concentration indirectly reflects an increase in intestinal permeability (13). In present study, the above mentioned plasma markers were increased in septic rats, compared to sham rats, suggesting that sepsis can lead to intestinal mucosal injury and increased intestinal permeability.
DEX is one of the commonly used drugs during the perioperative period of clinical anesthesia. When DEX combined anesthesia is used in patients with acute intestinal obstruction, it can reduce the intestinal mucosal permeability, shorten the anal exhaust time and shorten the postoperative hospital stay.5) A multicenter clinical study showed that DEX combined anesthesia promoted the recovery of intestinal function (14). Another study showed that DEX had a protective effect on intestinal ischemia-reperfusion injury in rats by reducing intestinal microcirculation dysfunction, reducing mucosal cell apoptosis and tight junction injury, and maintaining the integrity of intestinal cell structure (15). In present study, the combined injection of DEX in septic rats can improve the pathological damage of intestinal mucosa, reduce the permeability of intestinal mucosa and up-regulate the expression of intestinal mucosal structural protein TJs. Therefore, it has a protective effect on septic intestinal mucosal injury.
In mice with colitis, AKB-4924, through prolyl hydroxylase (PHD) inhibition enhanced intestinal mucosal barrier function, but no protective effect on the intestinal mucosa was observed in HIF-1α- deficient mice, indicating that HIF-1α in the intestinal mucosa is a target of AKB-4924-mediated protection (16). Intestinal HIF-1α knockout in mice aggravated alcohol-induced destruction of the intestinal mucosal barrier (17). Knockout and overexpression experiments showed that HIF-1α plays an essential role in regulating claudin-1 expression at the gene level, revealing that claudin-1 may be an important target gene of HIF-1α. The abnormal expression of Claudin-1 in the HIF-1α-deficient intestinal mucosa led to an abnormal structure of TJ structure (18). Our previous study showed that HIF-1α improved intestinal mucosal injury in sepsis by alleviating the inflammatory response of sepsis and inhibiting the level of oxidative stress (3). Another study showed DEX could reduce endotoxin-caused oxidative stress injury to macrophages, improve mitochondrial function and inhibit mitochondrial apoptosis, and the mechanism may be related to up-regulating the expression of HIF-1α in mice (19). DEX treatment can maintain the dynamic balance of mitochondrial fusion/division by regulating HIF-1a/HO-1 signaling pathway, so as to improve endotoxin induced acute lung injury (20). In this study, after DEX treatment in septic rats, the expression of HIF-1α in intestinal mucosa up-regulated, thus alleviated the intestinal mucosal injury, but the HIF-1α inhibitor, Bay87-2243 counteracted the protective effect of DEX on intestinal mucosa. The results suggested that DEX can alleviate intestinal mucosal injury in septic rats by up regulating the expression of HIF-1α.
CLP model, a fast, simple, cheap and reproducible method, is the "gold standard" of sepsis model, which is characterized by being closer to the pathophysiological process of sepsis in human (21). Previous study showed that the inflammatory cytokines and multi organ function of septic rats changed significantly 24 hours after CLP. Therefore, 24 hours after CLP was selected as the exposure time in this study (22). The distribution half-life of DEX in rats after a single intravenous infusion is about 2 min, and the terminal half-life is 57 min (23); Martens et al (24) compared the protective effects of DEX administration at different times on sepsis-induced lung injury. The results showed that the effects of DEX pre-treatment and post-treatment on inflammatory factors, anti-inflammatory factors and JAK/STAT signal pathway were better than those of simple pretreatment or post-treatment. Therefore, this study adopted the combined scheme of DEX pre- and post-processing.
The results of this study provide a preliminary animal experimental basis for the possible protective effect of DEX on intestinal injury in sepsis through HIF-1α pathway, and provide the clues for further research. The pathophysiological mechanism of intestinal injury in sepsis is complicated, and moreover, this study also has some limitations. To further clarify the protective effect of DEX/HIF-1α on sepsis associated intestinal mucosal barrier injury, HIF-1α knockout mice will be selected for further experiment. The specific pathway DEX/HIF-1α on sepsis intestinal mucosal barrier function needs to be further clarified.