Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

TNF-α-induced up-regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines is reduced by phosphatidylcholine in intestinal epithelial cells

Irina Treede1, Annika Braun1, Petia Jeliaskova1, Thomas Giese2, Joachim Füllekrug1, Gareth Griffiths3, Wolfgang Stremmel1 and Robert Ehehalt1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Gastroenterology, University of Heidelberg, INF 345, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Institute of Immunology, University of Heidelberg, INF 305, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

3 Cell Biology Program, EMBL, Postfach 102209, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

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BMC Gastroenterology 2009, 9:53  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-9-53

Published: 13 July 2009



Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a major lipid of the gastrointestinal mucus layer. We recently showed that mucus from patients suffering from ulcerative colitis has low levels of PC. Clinical studies reveal that the therapeutic addition of PC to the colonic mucus using slow release preparations is beneficial. The positive role of PC in this disease is still unclear; however, we have recently shown that PC has an intrinsic anti-inflammatory property. It could be demonstrated that the exogenous application of PC inhibits membrane-dependent actin assembly and TNF-α-induced nuclear NF-κB activation. We investigate here in more detail the hypothesis that the exogenous application of PC has anti-inflammatory properties.


PC species with different fatty acid side chains were applied to differentiated and non-differentiated Caco-2 cells treated with TNF-α to induce a pro-inflammatory response. We analysed TNF-α-induced NF-κB-activation via the transient expression of a NF-κB-luciferase reporter system. Pro-inflammatory gene transcription was detected with the help of a quantitative real time (RT)-PCR analysis. We assessed the binding of TNF-α to its receptor by FACS and analysed lipid rafts by isolating detergent resistant membranes (DRMs).


The exogenous addition of all PC species tested significantly inhibited TNF-α-induced pro-inflammatory signalling. The expression levels of IL-8, ICAM-1, IP-10, MCP-1, TNF-α and MMP-1 were significantly reduced after PC pre-treatment for at least two hours. The effect was comparable to the inhibition of NF-kB by the NF-kB inhibitor SN 50 and was not due to a reduced binding of TNF-α to its receptor or a decreased surface expression of TNF-α receptors. PC was also effective when applied to the apical side of polarised Caco-2 cultures if cells were stimulated from the basolateral side. PC treatment changed the compartmentation of the TNF-α-receptors 1 and 2 to DRMs.


PC induces a prolonged inhibition of TNF-α-induced pro-inflammatory signalling. This inhibition may be caused by a shift of the TNF-α receptors at the surface to lipid rafts. Our results may offer a potential molecular explanation for the positive role of PC seen in clinical studies for the treatment of ulcerative colitis.