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Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530

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Journal of Pediatric Surgery


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Reduction of hydrogen sulfide synthesis enzymes cystathionine-β-synthase


and cystathionine-γ-lyase in the colon of patients with
Hirschsprungs disease
Christian Tomuschat a, Anne Marie O’Donnell a, David Coyle a, Prem Puri a,b,⁎
a
National Children's Research Centre, Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin, Ireland
b
School of Medicine and Medical Science and Conway Institute of Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Ireland

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Purpose: Hirschsprung associated enterocolitis (HAEC) is the most common cause of morbidity and mortality in
Received 20 January 2017 Hirschsprung Disease (HSCR). The pathogenesis of HAEC is poorly understood. In recent years, there is increasing
Received in revised form 30 April 2017 evidence that a compromised intestinal barrier function plays a major role in the pathogenesis of HAEC. Hydro-
Accepted 14 June 2017 gen sulfide, synthesized from L-cysteine by two key enzymes, cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) and
cystathionine-γ-lysase (CSE) is reported to play a key role in regulating gastrointestinal motility and promoting
Key words:
resolution of inflammation. We designed this study to test the hypothesis that CBS and CSE expression is altered
Hirschsprung disease
Hirschsprung associated enterocolitis (HAEC)
in the colon of patients with HSCR.
Cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) Methods: We investigated CBS and CSE protein expression in both the aganglionic and ganglionic regions of HSCR
Cystathionine-γ-lysase (CSE) patients (n = 10) versus healthy control colon (n = 10). Protein distribution was assessed by using immunoflu-
orescence and confocal microscopy. Gene and protein expression was quantified using quantitative real-time po-
lymerase chain reaction (qPCR), Western blot analysis, and densitometry.
Main results: qPCR and Western blot analysis revealed that CBS and CSE are expressed in the normal human
colon. CBS and CSE expression was significantly decreased (p b 0.003) in the ganglionic and aganglionic bowel
in HSCR compared to controls. Confocal microscopy revealed that CBS and CSE expression in smooth muscles, in-
terstitial cells of Cajal, platelet-derived growth factor-alpha receptor-positive cells, enteric neurons and colonic
epithelium was markedly decreased in HSCR specimens compared to controls.
Conclusion: We demonstrate for the first time the expression and distribution of CBS/CSE in patients with HSCR.
The observed decreased expression of CBS and CSE may affect mucosal integrity and colonic contractility and
thus render HSCR patients more susceptible to develop HAEC.
© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Hirschsprung associated enterocolitis (HAEC) is the most serious the barrier to reach subepithelial regions, coming in contact with
complication of Hirschsprung Disease (HSCR) and can occur pre- and immune cells and initiating altered immune responses, which in turn
postoperatively in up to 40% of patients [1]. Although the clinical course trigger the development of intestinal inflammation [6].
of HAEC with abdominal distension, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea is Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is an important regulator of gastrointestinal
well acknowledged, its pathogenesis is poorly understood. In recent motility and mucosal homeostasis. H2S is endogenously synthesized
years, numerous theories have been put forward to understand the un- from L-Cysteine by the enzymes cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) and
derlying basis of HAEC [2–4] including intestinal epithelial barrier dys- cystathionine-γ-lyase (CSE). Also, H2S can be produced by sulfate-
function and altered gastrointestinal motility patterns [5]. It is well reducing bacteria [7]. However, the role of bacterial H2S still has to be
recognized that intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction may allow the established. The function of H2S has been implicated in smooth muscle
passage of macromolecular antigens or harmful substances through relaxation, increased colonic secretion and the protection of the
intestines from ischemia–reperfusion injury [8–11]. Interestingly,
⁎ Corresponding author at: National Children's Research Centre, Our Lady's Children's
suppression of colonic H2S synthesis in mice with colitis is reported to
Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin, 12, Ireland. Tel.: +353 14096420; fax: +353 1455 201. impair mucosal integrity and alter intestinal barrier function [8]. Since
E-mail address: prem.puri@ncrc.ie (P. Puri). in recent years, damaged intestinal barrier function is being increasingly

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2017.06.011
0022-3468/© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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526 C. Tomuschat et al. / Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530

implicated in the pathogenesis of HAEC, we designed this study to test RT-PCR was performed for Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase
the hypothesis that the H2S synthesis enzymes CBS/CSE are lacking or (GAPDH). GAPDH sense primer 5’AACGGTTCATGTTGTAATG and
reduced in the colonic specimens from patients with HSCR. GAPDH antisense primer 5′ ACACAGGTTGTGGAGTAACA has been
used. After 5 min of initial denaturation at 95 °C, 55 cycles of amplifica-
1. Material and methods tion for each primer were carried out. Each cycle included denaturation
at 95 °C for 10 s, annealing at 60 °C for 15 s, and elongation at 72 °C for
1.1. Tissue samples 10 s. Relative mRNA levels of gene expression were determined using a
LightCycler 480 System (Roche Diagnostics, Mannheim, Germany). The
This study was approved by the Ethics Medical Research Committee, relative changes in gene expression levels of CBS/CSE were normalized
Our Lady's Children's Hospital (Ref GEN.292/12) and tissue samples against the level of GAPDH gene expression in each sample (ΔΔCT-
were obtained with informed parenteral consent. HSCR specimens method). Experiments were carried out in triplicate for each sample
from 10 patients (7 male, three female, 3–14 months, median 5.5 and primer.
months) who underwent pull-through surgery were studied
(Table 1). Delphi criteria for HAEC diagnosis were applied [12]. These 1.4. Protein extraction and Western blot
specimens were divided into aganglionic and ganglionic samples. Gan-
glionic samples were taken from the most proximal margin of the Specimens of HSCR colon and control colon were homogenized in
pull-through specimen while aganglionic samples were taken from RIPA buffer (Radio-Immunoprecipitation Assay, Sigma-Aldrich Ltd.,
the most distal margin of the pull through specimens. Normal control Wicklow, Ireland) containing 1% protease inhibitor cocktail (Sigma-Al-
samples included ten specimens from patients who underwent sigmoid drich Ireland Ltd., Wicklow, Ireland). Protein concentrations were de-
colostomy closure following anorectoplasty for imperforate anus (6 termined using a Bradford assay (Sigma-Aldrich Ireland Ltd., Wicklow
male, four female, 8–19 months, median 8.5 months). Tissue specimens Ireland). A total volume of 40 μl Laemmli Sample Buffer (Sigma-Aldrich,
were either snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored at −80 °C for pro- Ireland Ltd., Wicklow, Ireland) containing 10 μg Protein was loaded in
tein extraction or embedded in OCT Mounting Compound (VWR Inter- the 10% SDS-PAGE gel (NuPAGE Novex Bis-Tris gels, Invitrogen, Carls-
national, Leuven, Belgium) for immunofluorescence and stored at bad, USA) for electrophoretic separation. The electrophoresis was per-
−80 °C until use. formed in MES SDS (2-(N-morpholino) ethane sulfonic acid, sodium
dodecyl sulfate) running buffer (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, USA). Proteins
1.2. RNA isolation from HSCR specimens were then transferred to 0.45 μm nitrocellulose membrane (Millipore
Corporation, Billerica, USA) by Western blotting. Following Western
Isolate II RNA Mini Kit (Roche Diagnostics, West Sussex, UK) was blotting, the membranes were blocked with 3% skimmed milk for
used for the extraction method to isolate total RNA from aganglionic 60 min before antibody detection. The primary antibodies; rabbit anti-
and ganglionic HSCR as well as controls (n = 10 for each group) accord- CBS (Abcam, Cambridge, UK, ab140600, GR103934) dilution 1:1000
ing to the manufacturer's protocol. Spectrophotometrical quantification and rabbit anti-CSE (Abcam, Cambridge, UK, ab136604, GR188522)
of total RNA was performed using a NanoDrop ND-1000 UV–Vis spec- were used, and incubation was performed overnight at 4 °C. Following
trophotometer (Thermo Scientific Fisher, Wilmington, DE). The RNA so- extensive washing (four times in PBS (Phosphate-buffered saline)–
lution was stored at −80 °C until further use. 0.05% Tween) the membranes were incubated with goat antirabbit
IgG HRP-linked secondary Antibody (dilution 1:10,000, Abcam, Cam-
1.3. cDNA synthesis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction bridge, UK) followed by washing (four times in PBS-0.05% Tween). De-
tection was performed with the ECL Plus chemiluminescence kit
Reverse transcription of total RNA was carried out at 25 °C for (Thermo, Fisher Scientific, Dublin, Ireland). We used GAPDH (mouse
10 min, at 37 °C for 120 min and 85 °C for 5 min using a Transcriptor anti-GAPDH, dilution 1:1000, Abcam, Cambridge, UK) as an additional
High Fidelity cDNA Synthesis Kit (Roche Diagnostics, West Sussex, UK) loading control.
according to the manufacturer's instruction. The resulting cDNA was Quantification of Western blot has been conducted with ImageJ
used for quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) software.
using a LightCycler 480 SYBR Green I Master (Roche Diagnostics, Mann- (U.S. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA) by
heim, Germany) in a total reaction mix of 25 μl per well. The following measuring the density of each single band.
gene-specific primers were used: Human CBS (Eurofins) sense primer
5’TGCCAGAGAAGATGAGCTCC and Human CBS antisense primer 1.5. Immunofluorescence staining and confocal microscopy
5’GGGATTTCGTTCTTCAGCCG as well Human CSE (Eurofins) sense prim-
er 5’TGACATTGAAGGCTGTGCAC and Human CSE antisense primer Frozen blocks of HSCR colon and normal control samples were sec-
5’GACACCAGGCCCATTACAAC. For normalization purposes, real-time tioned transversely at a thickness of 10 μm, mounted on Superfrost®

Table 1
Clinical data of patients with Hirschsprung disease.

Age at surgery Gender Associated Extent Colostomy prior to Enterocolitis


(month) anomalies Aganglionosis pullthrough
Preoperative Post pullthrough

1 10 Female Trisomy 21, ASD, PDA Long segment – yes –


2 8 Female Trisomy 21, ASD Rectosigmoid yes – yes
3 3 Male ASD Rectosigmoid – – –
4 14 Female ASD Rectosigmoid – – –
5 5 Male – Rectosigmoid – – –
6 7 Male – Subtotal colonic Yes Yes –
7 4 Male – Rectosigmoid – – –
8 5 Male – Rectosigmoid – – –
9 5 Male – Rectosigmoid Yes Yes –
10 5 Male PDA Ligation Rectosigmoid – – –

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C. Tomuschat et al. / Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530 527

Plus slides (VWR International, Leuven, Belgium) and fixed with buff- 2. Results
ered 10% formalin for 10 min. Sections underwent cell membrane per-
meabilization with 1% TritonX-100 for 25 min at room temperature. 2.1. Relative mRNA expression levels of CBS and CSE in HSCR and controls
After blocking with 5% BSA (Bovine serum albumin) for 30 min to
avoid nonspecific absorption, sections were incubated with primary an- The relative mRNA expression levels of CBS and CSE were
tibodies: rabbit anti-CBS (1:500, BSA 5%), (Abcam, Cambridge, UK), rab- significantly decreased in aganglionic and ganglionic (HSCR) specimens
bit anti-CSE (1:400, BSA 5%), (Abcam, Cambridge, UK) mouse anti-α- compared to normal controls.
smooth muscle actin (1:200, 5% BSA), (Sigma-Aldrich, Ireland), mouse (p = .003, Fig. 1 a/b).
anti-c-kit (1:300, 5% BSA), (Abcam, Cambridge, UK), mouse anti-
PDGFRα (1:100, 5% BSA), (Santa Cruz, Heidelberg, Germany) and 2.2. Western blot
mouse HuD-1 (1:100, 5% BSA), (Santa Cruz, Heidelberg, Germany) over-
night at 4 °C. Sections were then washed in PBS-0.05% Tween and incu- Our Western blot results from three independent experiments
bated with corresponding secondary antibodies (antirabbit Alexa Fluor showed that CBS and CSE protein was expressed in the colon of patients
488 (ab150073, GR226381), dilution 1:1000 and antimouse Alexa Fluor with HSCR and the expression was significantly decreased in the
594 (ab150116, GR232081), dilution 1:1000), (Abcam, Cambridge, UK) aganglionic and ganglionic bowel compared to healthy controls (p =
for 1 h at room temperature. After washing, sections were counter- .05) (Fig. 1 c/d). Densitometry confirmed significantly decreased CBS
stained with DAPI (4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) antibody, dilution and CSE protein expression in the aganglionic and ganglionic bowel in
1:1000 (Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, Germany) for 15 min, HSCR compared to normal controls (p = .05). Equal loading of electro-
washed, mounted and coverslipped with Fluorescent Mounting Medi- phoresis gels was confirmed by GAPDH (Glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate
um (DAKO Ltd., Cambridgeshire, UK). All sections were independently dehydrogenase) staining of the stripped membranes.
evaluated by two investigators with an LSM 700 confocal microscope
(Carl Zeiss MicroImaging GmbH, Jena, Germany).
2.3. Immunofluorescence staining and confocal microscopy

1.6. Statistical analysis Both CBS and CSE could be detected in interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC)
and platelet-derived-growth-factor-receptor + (PDGFRα +) cells found
A one-way ANOVA was conducted to determine a statistically in the ganglionic and ganglionic HSCR specimens and control samples.
significant difference between aganglionic, ganglionic and healthy Compared with the control group, there were significantly fewer CBS−
controls. Data ± standard error. Hirschsprung specimens were classi- and CSE + cells in the HSCR specimens (Fig. 2) Furthermore, both en-
fied into three groups: Aganglionic (n = 10), Ganglionic (n = 10) and zymes have been detected in the colonic epithelium and smooth muscle
normal controls (n = 10). fibers. Compared with the control group there was a significantly

Fig. 1. (a/b) qRT-PCR revealed significantly decreased relative mRNA expression levels of CBS and CSE in the aganglionic and ganglionic HSCR specimens (n = 10) compared to normal
control tissue (n = 10). Results are presented as mean ± SEM (*p = .003 by one-way ANOVA). (c/d) Western blotting and densitometry quantification of CBS/CSE protein expression
in HSCR specimens (n = 10) and controls. Western blot results show that the quantitative decrease of CBS and CSE transcripts in HSCR specimens resulted in decreased amounts of
CBS and CSE protein expression compared to normal controls. Equal loading of electrophoresis gels was confirmed by GAPDH staining (*p = .05 by one-way ANOVA). Values are given
as mean ± SEM.

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528 C. Tomuschat et al. / Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530

Fig. 2. (a) CBS and (b) CSE expression (green) in ICC (red) of HSCR compared to normal controls. C-Kit (red) was used to identify ICC to show coexpression with CBS and CSE (scale bar
25 μm, original magnification ×63). (c) CBS and (d) CSE expression (green) in PDGFRα + cells (red) of HSCR specimens compared to normal controls. PDGFRα (red) was used to identify
PDGFRα + cells to show coexpression with CBS and CSE (scale bar 25 μm, original magnification ×63). A total of 8 specimens were analyzed; only the most representative stainings are
shown.

decreased expression of both enzymes found in the HSCR specimens enteric neurons, smooth muscle cells, ICCs, PDGFRα + cells and the co-
(Fig. 3). CBS and CSE have also been detected in the hypertrophic lonic epithelium. The observed expression differences of both enzymes
nerve trunks and ganglion cells of the HSCR specimens. The expression may lead to differences in the H2S production capacity of these tissues.
of both enzymes is reduced compared to healthy control samples H2S as a gaseous mediator promotes tissue repair and resolution of
(Fig. 4). inflammation; conversely, the inhibition of H2S synthesis leads to gas-
trointestinal (GI) mucosal inflammation and impairment of healing of
3. Discussion injury [11].
The beneficial effects of H2S on mucosal protection are underlined by
The functions of H2S in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract have received Zhao et al.; they showed that a slow-release H2S donor (GYY4137) im-
much attention in recent years; in animal models it has been shown proved colonic intestinal barrier integrity and attenuated DSS-induced
that H2S plays an important role in the regulation of gastrointestinal inflammation in Caco-2 cells. This finding has been further confirmed
motility and mucosal homeostasis. To our knowledge, this is the first re- by in vivo data which exhibited that GYY4137 alleviated DSS-induced
port describing the colonic expression of CBS and CSE in HSCR. CBS and colonic injury via reducing inflammation and improving colonic barrier
CSE are the key enzymes involved in the synthesis of H2S. In the present integrity [14]. Furthermore, the beneficial effects of H2S are confirmed
study, we quantified CBS and CSE protein levels in the aganglionic, gan- as well in the small bowel and have been shown in the treatment of
glionic and normal control specimens, using qPCR and Western blotting. neonatal intestinal disease such as necrotizing enterocolitis [15]. A po-
The substrate of CBS and CSE to produce H2S is L-cysteine. L-cysteine is tential mechanism of the anti-inflammatory effects of H2S is the ability
found in alimentary sources and in endogenous proteins. Through of luminal H2S to modify secreted defensive proteins. Via reduction of
transsulfuration it can be synthesized from l-methionine. However, a disulfide bonds, H2S releases trefoil factor 3 (TFF3), which plays a key
quantification of L-cysteine has not been conducted, since an alteration role in mucosal regeneration and repair processes, from its co-
of CBS and CSE would still lead to reduced production of H2S. In fact de- secreted disulfide-linked partner IgG Fc binding protein. Also, recent ev-
creased H2S levels have been reported in CSE−/− and CBS heterozy- idence suggests that H2S reduces the sulfur groups of β-defensin which
gote mouse models [13]. increase the potency of its antimicrobial activity [16].
Our results show that significant differences exist in the relative These findings have implications for our understanding of the path-
levels of CBS and CSE in the colon of patients with HSCR. Further, we ogenesis of HAEC. There is growing evidence that intestinal barrier dys-
showed the presence of both key enzymes of H2S production in tissue function is a critical factor in the pathogenesis of HAEC [17–19]. Changes
involved in colon motility and mucosal intestinal barrier function. Con- in the colonic epithelium have been postulated as a causative factor in
focal microscopy revealed that CBS and CSE were strongly expressed in the development of HAEC through perturbations in structure and

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C. Tomuschat et al. / Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530 529

Fig. 3. (a) CBS and (b) CSE expression (green) in the colonic epithelium (red) of HSCR specimens compared to normal controls. E-Cadherin (red) was used to identify colonic epithelium to
show coexpression with CBS and CSE (scale bar 25 μm, original magnification ×63). (c) CBS and (d) CSE expression (green) in smooth muscle cells (red) of HSCR compared to healthy
controls. α-SMA (red) was used to identify smooth muscle bundles to show coexpression with CBS and CSE (scale bar 25 μm, original magnification ×63). A total of 8 specimens were
analyzed; only the most representative stainings are shown.

function of the epithelial lining [4]. Recently, we showed that ATP- identified as one of the major NANC transmitters, and the potential im-
sensitive K +-channel (K (ATP)) subunits are which colocalized with pairment of H2S producing enzymes in the colon of patients with HSCR
tight junction-proteins were reduced in HSCR specimens [20]. Alter- may contribute to the dysmotility problems often seen in patients with
ations in the functional anatomic integrity of the intestinal barrier HSCR [23]. Zhang et al. showed that in patients with esophageal achala-
have been suggested as one of the critical factors in the pathophysiolog- sia both enzymes are reduced in the smooth muscles of biopsies taken;
ical processes of HAEC [2]. The potential intrinsic impairment of K (ATP) their second observation was that H2S can inhibit esophageal contractile
channels in patients with HSCR is extended by the fact that the subunit activity in a concentration-dependent manner and that the contractile
SUR2 (sulfunylurea receptor 2) of K (ATP) channels is a target of H2S [21]. amplitude increased upon the inhibition of H2S [24]. Also, a recent
It is thought that the resulting transsulfuration of the subunit prevents study demonstrated that endogenous H2S contributes to the resting
the detrimental effects of tyrosine nitration which underlines the anti- membrane potential and spontaneous contractions in the rat colon as
oxidant and therefore protective properties of H2S in the setting of an CSE/CBS inhibitors can reduce H2S production, depolarize smooth mus-
acute inflammation [21]. These findings indicate an important mecha- cle cells, and increase the frequency of contractions in muscle strips
nism of mucosal protection, involving K (ATP) channels and H2S, which [16,25]. We clearly showed the presence of both enzymes in the smooth
is potentially disturbed in patients with HSCR. muscle cells with a marked decrease of expression of both enzymes in
However, it is agreed to accept that the marked reduction of both the HSCR specimens. It is conceivable that the reduced expression of
key enzymes cannot solely be explained by the decrease in the colonic CBS/CSE leads to a reduced production of H2S and therefore to an im-
epithelium. In the present study, both enzymes are found in smooth pairment of smooth muscle relaxation. The presence of CBS and CSE in
muscle cells (SMC), ICCs, PDGFRα+ cells and enteric neurons including ICCs and PDGFRα + cells suggests that both cell types have the ability
ganglia cells. These findings are so far of importance, since H2S is also in- to produce H2S. The interplay of SMC, ICC and PDGFRα + cells (SIP) is
volved in smooth muscle relaxation. Generally, smooth muscle relaxa- summarized in the so-called SIP-syncytium, which represents a func-
tion is caused by one or more nonadrenergic noncholinergic (NANC) tional unit. All three cell types express both key enzymes for H2S pro-
transmitters that are released from enteric motor neurons, SMCs, and duction. The reported decrease in the present study adds further
ICCs. Normal intestinal motility requires the coordinated interaction of evidence that interstitial cells are altered in HSCR which may contribute
the enteric nervous system, SMC, ICCs and recently discovered to motility disturbances often observed in these patients.
PDGFRα + cells. Together, the mutual interaction of these cells propa- Further, the altered expression of CBS and CSE was not only confined
gates the proper motility in the healthy human colon [22]. H2S is to the aganglionic colon but also affected the ganglionic bowel.

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530 C. Tomuschat et al. / Journal of Pediatric Surgery 53 (2018) 525–530

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