The corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) family of neuropeptides (CRF and urocortins [Ucn] 1-3) and their receptors (CRFR1, CRFR2) are essential mediators of stress in the central nervous system. Therefore a systemic inhibition of their function is not an attractive therapeutic model. Components of this peptide/receptor family are prominently expressed within the intestine, where their local functions remain to be defined. Our preliminary data from CRFR2 heterozygous mice suggests that perturbation of the CRFR2 system renders the mice more susceptible to sudden stress and immune challenges. Our results suggest that new treatments for intestinal inflammatory diseases may require either antagonists or agonists of CRF receptors, depending upon the affected intestinal region and the type of inflammatory disease. A striking feature we observed during colitis was reciprocal changes in mRNA and protein levels of Ucn ligands and their receptors. These differential changes can alter Ucn-induced trafficking of receptors from and to the plasma membrane. However, the molecular mechanisms of this divergent trafficking to recycling or degradatory pathways remain unexplored. Thus, our hypothesis is that Ucn isoforms, differentially signaling through CRF receptors, govern intestinal inflammation at the molecular, cellular and organ levels.
The aims of this proposal are to:
Specific Aim 1. To define the systemic role of the Ucn/CRFR system in intestinal inflammation. We will use pharmacological and genetic approaches to define the systemic role of the Ucn/CRFR system in intestinal inflammation. We will determine if CRFR2 knockout and heterozygous mice exhibit differential sensitivity to inflammation and agonist treatment as compared with their wild type littermates. We will determine alterations in colitis severity by measuring changes in body weight gain, mortality, histological damage, and fluid leak.
Specific Aim 2. To define the contributions of colon-specific Ucns and CRFRs in intestinal inflammation using RNA interference (RNAi). To determine the colon-specific role of the Ucn/CRFR system, we will establish the use RNAi to knockdown expression of Ucns and CRFR2 locally in the colon. We will determine the spatial and temporal effects of RNAi in the colon, and assess whether colon-specific knockdown of Ucns and CRFRs is sufficient to ameliorate or exacerbate colitis, using end points defined in Specific Aim 1.
Specific Aim 3. To define the mechanism and function of Ucn1-induced trafficking of CRFR1. We will examine the influence of Ucn1 stimulation on the subcellular localization of CRFR1 using confocal microscopy and immunofluorescence. We will explore the ability of the adaptor/scaffolding proteins (?-arrestins and dynamin) to desensitize and resensitize CRFRs. We will assess Ucn1 regulation of CRFR1 activity by measuring Ucn1-stimulated intracellular Ca2+ mobilization. Thus, manipulation of the urocortins and their receptors provides an effective starting point for understanding their GI functions, which could contribute to the development of new treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.

Public Health Relevance

Urocortins (Ucns) and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) are short proteins (peptides) that mediate the effects of psychological, physical and immunological stressors on hormonal responses, anxiety, mood, feeding behavior and gastrointestinal functions. CRF and Ucns expressed in the central nervous system control activity of autonomic nerves and thereby mediate the effects of central stressors on gastrointestinal motility and secretion. Studies have shown that people with active Crohn's disease have higher levels of one type of urocortin (Ucn1) than people without the disease. Our preliminary data from CRFR2 heterozygous mice suggests that perturbation of the CRFR2 system renders the mice more susceptible to sudden stress and immune challenges. However, the precise roles of specific components of Ucn peptide/receptor system in the initiation, development and progression of intestinal inflammation remain to be defined. This research is innovative in that it investigates the notion that local perturbation of the Ucn and its receptors influences the outcome of colonic inflammation. If successful, this study will establish how urocortins help maintain a normal immune response in the gut and whether manipulation of urocortins can help stop intestinal inflammation. Therapies that target this inflammatory pathway could improve the quality of life for patients with inflammatory bowel diseases and decrease the lifetime cost of treatment.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Research Project (R01)
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Gastrointestinal Mucosal Pathobiology Study Section (GMPB)
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Hamilton, Frank A
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University of California San Francisco
Schools of Medicine
San Francisco
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