Crohn's disease is complicated by the development of fibrosis and stricture in approximately 30% to 50% of patients over time. The pathogenesis of fibrostenotic disease is multifactorial involving the activation of mesenchymal cells by cytokines, growth factors, and other mediators released by immune cells, epithelial cells, and mesenchymal cells. Transforming growth factor β, a key activator of mesenchymal cells, is central to the process of fibrosis and regulates numerous genes involved in the disordered wound healing including collagens, and other extracellular matrix proteins, connective tissue growth factor, and insulin-like growth factors. The activated mesenchymal compartment is expanded by recruitment of new mesenchymal cells through epithelial to mesenchymal transition, endothelial to mesenchymal transition, and invasion of circulating fibrocytes. Cellular hyperplasia and increased extracellular matrix production, particularly collagens, from fibroblasts, myofibroblasts, and smooth muscle cells add to the disturbed architecture and scarring on the intestine. Extracellular matrix homeostasis is further disrupted by alterations in the expression of matrix metalloproteinases and tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinase in the gut. Among the 163 susceptibility genes identified that contribute to susceptibility in inflammatory bowel disease mutations in NOD2/CARD15, innate immune system components and autophagy jointly contribute to the activation of mesenchymal cells and pathogenesis of fibrosis in this polygenic disorder. Numerous growth factors cytokines and other mediators also contribute to development of fibrosis in the susceptible patient. This review focuses on the molecular mechanisms that regulate mesenchymal cell function, particularly smooth muscle cells, the largest compartment of mesenchyme in the intestine, that lead to fibrosis in Crohn's disease.
Article first published online 14 May 2014.
*Department of Medicine,
†Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and
‡VCU Program for Enteric Neuromuscular Sciences, Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.
Reprints: John F. Kuemmerle, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Virginia Commonwealth University, Molecular Medicine Research Building 5-036, Richmond, VA 23298–0341 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Supported by DK49691 (to J.F.K.) from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Received February 21, 2014
Accepted March 11, 2014