Celiac disease (CD) is an enteropathy triggered by the ingestion of gluten proteins in genetically predisposed individuals and characterized by excessive activation of effector immune cells and enhanced production of inflammatory cytokines. However, factors/mechanisms that amplify the ongoing mucosal inflammation in CD are not fully understood. In this study, we assessed whether mammalian target of Rapamycin (mTOR), a pathway that combines intra- and extra-cellular signals and acts as a central regulator for the metabolism, growth, and function of immune and non-immune cells, sustains CD-associated immune response. Our findings indicate that expression of phosphorylated (p)/active form of mTOR is increased in protein lysates of duodenal biopsy samples taken from patients with active CD (ACD) as compared to normal controls. In ACD, activation of mTOR occurs mainly in the epithelial compartment and associates with enhanced expression of p-4EBP, a downstream target of mTOR complex (mTORC)1, while expression of p-Rictor, a component of mTORC2, is not increased. Stimulation of mucosal explants of inactive CD patients with pepsin-trypsin-digested (PT)-gliadin or IFN-γ/IL-21, two cytokines produced in CD by gluten-specific T cells, increases p-4EBP expression. Consistently, blockade of such cytokines in cultures of ACD mucosal explants reduces p-4EBP. Finally, we show that inhibition of mTORC1 with rapamycin in ACD mucosal explants reduces p-4EBP and production of IL-15, a master cytokine produced by epithelial cells in this disorder. Our data suggest that ACD inflammation is marked by activation of mTORC1 in the epithelial compartment.
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