Maternal aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation protects newborns against necrotizing enterocolitis

Peng Lu, Yukihiro Yamaguchi, William B. Fulton, Sanxia Wang, Qinjie Zhou, Hongpeng Jia, Mark L. Kovler, Andres Gonzalez Salazar, Maame Sampah, Thomas Prindle, Peter Wipf, Chhinder P. Sodhi, David J. Hackam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a disease of premature infants characterized by acute intestinal necrosis. Current dogma suggests that NEC develops in response to post-natal dietary and bacterial factors, and so a potential role for in utero factors in NEC remains unexplored. We now show that during pregnancy, administration of a diet rich in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) ligand indole-3-carbinole (I3C), or of breast milk, activates AHR and prevents NEC in newborn mice by reducing Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) signaling in the newborn gut. Protection from NEC requires activation of AHR in the intestinal epithelium which is reduced in mouse and human NEC, and is independent of leukocyte activation. Finally, we identify an AHR ligand (“A18”) that limits TLR4 signaling in mouse and human intestine, and prevents NEC in mice when administered during pregnancy. In summary, AHR signaling is critical in NEC development, and maternally-delivered, AHR-based therapies may alleviate NEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1042
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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