1. Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Pharmacolgy and Safety Evaluation of Chinese Materia Medica, School of Pharmacy, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing 210023, PR China.
2. State Key Laboratory Cultivation Base for TCM Quality and Efficacy, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing 210023, PR China.
3. Jiangsu Collaborative Innovation Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Prevention and Treatment of Tumor, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing 210023, PR China.
4. Jiangsu Provincial Second Chinese Medicine Hospital, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing 210017, China.
*These authors contributed equally to this work
Background: Gut microbiota, which plays a crucial role in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), might have therapeutic benefits for ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Targeting gut microbiota represents a new treatment strategy for IBD patients. Rhein is one of the main components of rhubarb and exhibits poor oral bioavailability but still exerts anti-inflammatory effects in some diseases. Therefore, we investigated the effect of rhein on colitis and studied its possible mechanisms.
Methods: The chronic mouse colitis model was induced by four rounds of 2% dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) treatment. The mice were treated with 50 mg/kg and 100 mg/kg rhein daily, body weight, colon length, histological score, inflammatory cytokines in serum or intestine, and fecal lipocalin 2 concentration were determined. Th17 cell, Th1 cell and Th2 cell infiltration in the mesenteric lymph node were analyzed by flow cytometry. Metabolic profiles were collected by non-targeted metabolomics and key metabolic pathways were identified using MetaboAnalyst 4.0. We also assessed intestinal barrier permeability and performed 16s rDNA sequencing. Lactobacillus sp. was cultured, and fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) was employed to evaluate the contribution of gut microbiota.
Results: Rhein could significantly alleviate DSS-induced chronic colitis. Uric acid was identified as a crucial modulator of colitis and rhein treatment led to decreased uric acid levels. We determined that rhein changed purine metabolism indirectly, while the probiotic Lactobacillus was involved in the regulation of host metabolism. Uric acid resulted in a worsened intestinal barrier, which could be rescued by rhein. We further confirmed that rhein-treated gut microbiota was sufficient to relieve DSS-induced colitis by FMT.
Conclusion: We showed that rhein could modulate gut microbiota, which indirectly changed purine metabolism in the intestine and subsequently alleviated colitis. Our study has identified a new approach to the clinical treatment of colitis.
Keywords: Rhein, DSS-induced colitis, purine metabolism, uric acid, gut microbiota