Rotaviruses are the leading cause of severe viral gastroenteritis in young children. To gain insight in goblet cell homeostasis and intestinal mucin expression during rotavirus infection, 6-day-old mice were inoculated with murine rotavirus. To determine epithelial cell migration, mice were injected with BrdU just before inoculation. Small intestines were isolated at different days postinfection (dpi) and evaluated for rotavirus and goblet cell-specific gene expression. Small intestinal mucins of control and infected animals at 1, 2, and 4 dpi were isolated and tested for their capability to neutralize rotavirus infection in vitro. After inoculation, two peaks of viral replication were observed at 1 and 4 dpi. During infection, the number of goblet cells in infected mice was decreased in duodenum and jejunum, but was unaffected in the ileum. Goblet cells in infected animals accumulated at the tips of the villi. Muc2 mRNA levels were increased during the peak of viral replication at 1 dpi, whereas at other time points Muc2 and Tff3 mRNA levels were maintained at control levels. Muc2 protein levels in the tissue were also maintained, however Tff3 protein levels were strongly decreased. The number of goblet cells containing sulfated mucins was reduced during the two peaks of infection. Mucins isolated at 1 and 2 dpi from control and infected mice efficiently neutralized rotavirus infection in vitro. Moreover, mucins isolated from infected mice at 4 dpi were more potent in inhibiting rotavirus infection than mucins from control mice at 4 dpi. In conclusion, these data show that during rotavirus infection, goblet cells, in contrast to enterocytes, are relatively spared from apoptosis especially in the ileum. Goblet cell-specific Muc2 expression is increased and mucin structure is modified in the course of infection. This suggests that goblet cells and mucins play a role in the active defense against rotavirus infection and that age-dependent differences in mucin quantities, composition, and/or structure alter the anti-viral capabilities of small intestinal mucins.

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Department of Pediatrics

Boshuizen, J.A, Einerhand, A.W.C, Reimerink, J.H.J, Korteland-van Male, A.M, van Ham, V, Bouma, J, … Dekker, J. (2005). Homeostasis and function of goblet cells during rotavirus infection in mice. Virology, 337(2), 210–221. doi:10.1016/j.virol.2005.03.039