This application defines a program to further the research career of a promising junior investigator within a mentored setting. Successful completion would allow the investigator to initiate a career as an independent NIH-funded surgeon-scientist, conducting translational research directed at identifying key pathways involved in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and other causes of intestinal sepsis. Once specific pathways involved in the pathogenies of NEC are identified, better therapeutics may be developed. Background: NEC affects 5% of all hospitalized premature infants, and may be fatal in its most severe forms. Bacteria are implicated in disease pathogenesis, and Cronobacter sakazakii (CS) has been identified as causing outbreaks of NEC. Based on preliminary data and published work, we hypothesize that CS adherence to the apical membrane of the intestinal epithelium, is essential for increased intracellular cAMP, PKA activation and epithelial apoptosis, resulting in intestinal barrier failure and NEC. Research Design and Methods:
Aim 1 will determine whether CS stimulates cAMP, PKA and CREB activation in experimental NEC. cAMP levels will be assayed by ELISA following various doses and concentrations of CS. Both in vitro intestinal cell line models and the rat pup model of NEC will be tested. cAMP, PKA and CREB levels in surgical intestinal specimens taken from infants with NEC will be compared to controls. Results will be compared among model systems. Furthermore, the subcellular location of activated PKA during NEC will be identified.
Aim 2 will determine whether epithelial apoptosis and loss of intestinal barrier function is induced by PKA-mediated pathways in experimental NEC. The apoptotic and barrier responses of the in vitro models to pharmaceutical PKA inhibitors and activators, as well as genetic inhibition of PKA using siRNA. Markers of apoptosis (caspase and TUNEL) will be measured by western blot analysis and immunofluorescence. We will determine the timing of PKA activation, and define its relationship to apoptosis. Changes in barrier function will be measured by transepithelial resistance measurement in vitro. The effect of PKA inhibitors in the NEC rat pup model will be assessed by tissue microscopy, immunofluorescence and western blot analysis. Intestinal injury scores will be compared between groups, as well as pup survival. Barrier function will be compared between groups by oral administration of FITC-Dextran by serum based assay.
Aim 3 will define the role of CS virulence factor(s) in experimental NEC. CS mutants lacking virulence factors that facilitate host cell binding will be assessed for their ability to induce epithelial apoptosis and experimental NEC. Additional mutants may be generated by transposon mutagenesis. This project is novel because no prior study has investigated the role of PKA in NEC. This project is novel and innovative in proposing a mechanism by which CS trigger cAMP release, alter PKA mediated activity, resulting in apoptosis and NEC. No study has previously examined the role of cAMP, PKA and CREB in NEC, and the virulence factors that may trigger NEC are not defined. Research environment: The candidate proposes to develop this project within an environment with established success at nurturing the careers of junior investigators. Under the supervision of an outstanding mentorship team, this project will add new expertise to the candidate's background, including training in molecular biology, cell signaling pathways, immunostaining, intestinal permeability assessment, and microbial mutagenesis. Career development activities within the proposal include didactic coursework in molecular biology, cell signaling mechanisms and microbiology, regular evaluations by a career advisory committee, and training in the responsible conduct of research. The candidate has 75% (9 calendar months) of protected research time.

Public Health Relevance

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a common disease, affecting 5% of infants hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units. Alterations in intestinal barrier integrity may promote NEC. This project is relevant to the NIH's mission because it will define the mechanistic response of the intestinal epithelium during NEC, to a pathogen that is associated with human outbreaks of disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Clinical Investigator Award (CIA) (K08)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDK1)
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Saslowsky, David E
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Northwestern University at Chicago
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Ares, Guillermo J; McElroy, Steven J; Hunter, Catherine J (2018) The science and necessity of using animal models in the study of necrotizing enterocolitis. Semin Pediatr Surg 27:29-33
Blackwood, Brian P; Yuan, Carrie Y; Wood, Douglas R et al. (2017) Probiotic Lactobacillus Species Strengthen Intestinal Barrier Function and Tight Junction Integrity in Experimental Necrotizing Enterocolitis. J Probiotics Health 5:
Blackwood, Brian P; Wood, Douglas R; Yuan, Carrie et al. (2017) A Role for cAMP and Protein Kinase A in Experimental Necrotizing Enterocolitis. Am J Pathol 187:401-417
Blackwood, Brian P; Hunter, Catherine J; Grabowski, Julia (2017) Variability in Antibiotic Regimens for Surgical Necrotizing Enterocolitis Highlights the Need for New Guidelines. Surg Infect (Larchmt) 18:215-220
Blackwood, Brian P; Theodorou, Christina M; Hebal, Ferdynand et al. (2016) Pediatric Intussusception: Decreased Surgical Risk with Timely Transfer to a Children's Hospital. Pediatr Care (Wilmington) 2:
P Blackwood M D, Brian; R Wood B S, Douglas; Y Yuan B S, Carrie et al. (2015) Urinary Claudin-2 Measurements as a Predictor of Necrotizing Enterocolitis: A Pilot Study. J Neonatal Surg 4:43