Thiopurines impair the apical plasma membrane expression of CFTR in pancreatic ductal cells via RAC1 inhibition

January 7, 2023


Background and aims: Thiopurine-induced acute pancreatitis (TIP) is one of the most common adverse events among inflammatory bowel disease patients treated with azathioprine (AZA), representing a significant clinical burden. Previous studies focused on immune-mediated processes, however, the exact pathomechanism of TIP is essentially unclear.

Methods: To model TIP in vivo, we triggered cerulein-induced experimental pancreatitis in mice receiving a daily oral dose of 1.5 mg/kg AZA. Also, freshly isolated mouse pancreatic cells were exposed to AZA ex vivo, and acinar cell viability, ductal and acinar Ca2+ signaling, ductal Cl- and HCO3- secretion, as well as cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) expression were assessed using microscopy techniques. Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate (RAC1) activity was measured with a G-LISA assay. Super-resolution microscopy was used to determine protein colocalization.

Results: We demonstrated that AZA treatment increases tissue damage in the early phase of cerulein-induced pancreatitis in vivo. Also, both per os and ex vivo AZA exposure impaired pancreatic fluid and ductal HCO3- and Cl- secretion, but did not affect acinar cells. Furthermore, ex vivo AZA exposure also inhibited RAC1 activity in ductal cells leading to decreased co-localization of CFTR and the anchor protein ezrin, resulting in impaired plasma membrane localization of CFTR.

Conclusions: AZA impaired the ductal HCO3- and Cl- secretion through the inhibition of RAC1 activity leading to diminished ezrin-CFTR interaction and disturbed apical plasma membrane expression of CFTR. We report a novel direct toxic effect of AZA on pancreatic ductal cells and suggest that the restoration of ductal function might help to prevent TIP in the future.

Keywords: Azathioprine; Drug-induced pancreatitis; Murine pancreas; Pancreatic ductal secretion; Thiopurine-induced pancreatitis.

© 2023. The Author(s).




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