Defects in NLRP6, autophagy and goblet cell homeostasis are associated with reduced duodenal CRH receptor 2 expression in patients with functional dyspepsia

Jessica K. Bruce, Grace L. Burns, Wai Sinn Soh, Prema M. Nair, Simonne Sherwin, KeNing Fan, Laura R. Dowling, Bridie J. Goggins, Natasha Koloski, Michael Potter, Steven Bollipo, Robert Foster, Lay T. Gan, Martin Veysey, Dana J. Philpott, Stephen E. Girardin, Gerald Holtmann, Gerard E. Kaiko, Marjorie M. Walker, Nicholas J. TalleySimon Keely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Functional dyspepsia (FD) affects up to 15% of the population and is characterised by recurring upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms occurring in the absence of clinically identifiable pathology. Psychological stress is a key factor associated with the onset of FD and locally acting hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis hormones have been implicated in GI motility and barrier dysfunction. Recent pre-clinical work has identified mechanistic pathways linking corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) with the innate epithelial immune protein NLRP6, an inflammasome that has been shown to regulate GI mucus secretion.

We recruited twelve FD patients and twelve healthy individuals to examine whether dysregulation of hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis hormones and altered NLRP6 pathways were evident in the duodenal mucosa. Protein expression was assessed by immunoblot and immunohistochemistry in D2 duodenal biopsies. Plasma HPA axis hormones were assayed by ELISA and enteroid and colorectal cancer cell line cultures were used to verify function. FD patients exhibited reduced duodenal CRH-receptor 2, compared to non-GI disease controls, indicating a dysregulation of duodenal HPA signalling. The loss of CRH-receptor 2 correlated with reduced NLRP6 expression and autophagy function, processes critical for maintaining goblet cell homeostasis. In accordance, duodenal goblet cell numbers and mucin exocytosis was reduced in FD patients compared to controls. In vitro studies demonstrated that CRH could reduce NLRP6 in duodenal spheroids and promote mucus secretion in the HT29-MTX-E12 cell line. In conclusion, FD patients exhibit defects in the NLRP6-autophagy axis with decreased goblet cell function that may drive symptoms of disease. These features correlated with loss of CRH receptor 2 and may be driven by dysregulation of HPA signalling in the duodenum of FD patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-345
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Autophagy
  • Functional dyspepsia
  • Goblet cell
  • Inflammasome
  • NLRP6
  • Stress


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