Expression of IL-22 is induced in several human inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Expression of the IL-22 receptor is restricted to innate immune cells; however, the role of IL-22 in colitis has not yet been defined. We developed what we believe to be a novel microinjection-based local gene-delivery system that is capable of targeting the inflamed intestine. Using this approach, we demonstrated a therapeutic potency for IL-22-mediated activation of the innate immune pathway in a mouse model of Th2-mediated colitis that induces disease with characteristics similar to that of IBD ulcerative colitis (UC). IL-22 gene delivery enhanced STAT3 activation specifically within colonic epithelial cells and induced both STAT3-dependent expression of mucus-associated molecules and restitution of mucus-producing goblet cells. Importantly, IL-22 gene delivery led to rapid amelioration of local intestinal inflammation. The amelioration of disease by IL-22 was mediated by enhanced mucus production. In addition, local gene delivery was used to inhibit IL-22 activity through overexpression of IL-22-binding protein. Treatment with IL-22-binding protein suppressed goblet cell restitution during the recovery phase of a dextran sulfate sodium-induced model of acute colitis. These data demonstrate what we believe to be a novel function for IL-22 in the intestine and suggest the potency of a local IL-22 gene-delivery system for treating UC.
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