Human esophageal myofibroblasts secrete proinflammatory cytokines in response to acid and Toll-like receptor 4 ligands

Matthew Gargus, Chao Niu, John G. Vallone, Jana Binkley, Deborah C. Rubin, Anisa Shaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The pathophysiology of esophageal injury, repair, and inflammation in gastroesophageal reflux-disease (GERD) is complex. Whereas most studies have focused on the epithelial response to GERD injury, we are interested in the stromal response. We hypothesized that subepithelial esophageal myofibroblasts in GERD secrete proinflammatory cytokines in response to injurious agents encountered via epithelial barrier breaches or through dilated epithelial intercellular spaces. We determined the percentage of myofibroblasts [α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA)+vimentin+CD31−] in the subepithelial GERD and normal esophageal stroma by immunomorphologic analysis. We performed α-SMA coimmunostaining with IL-6 and p65. We established and characterized primary cultures of α-SMA+vimentin+CD31−CD45− human esophageal myofibroblasts (HuEso MFs). We modeled GERD by treatment with pH 4.5-acidified media and Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) ligands, LPS and high-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1), and determined myofibroblast cytokine secretion in response to GERD injury. We demonstrate that spindle-shaped cell myofibroblasts are located near the basement membrane of stratified squamous epithelium in normal esophagus. We identify an increase in subepithelial myofibroblasts and activation of proinflammatory pathways in patients with GERD. Primary cultures of stromal cells obtained from normal esophagus retain myofibroblast morphology and express the acid receptor transient receptor potential channel vanilloid subfamily 1 (TRPV1) and TLR4. HuEso MFs stimulated with acid and TLR4 agonists LPS and HMGB1 increase IL-6 and IL-8 secretion via TRPV1 and NF-ĸB activation. Our work implicates a role for human subepithelial stromal cells in the pathogenesis of GERD-related esophageal injury. Findings of this study can be extended to the investigation of epithelial-stromal interactions in inflammatory esophageal mucosal disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G904-G923
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Acid-related disease
  • Gastroesophageal-reflux disease
  • Inflammatory cells
  • Inflammatory mechanisms
  • Mucosal injury


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