Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are endogenous peptides that have been identified to alleviate intestinal epithelial barrier inflammation and dysfunction caused by enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) infection; nonetheless, the upstream molecular mechanism of the production of AMPs is poorly understood.

Material and methods:
The binding of signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) 1 (STAT1) to mucin 4 (MUC4) was examined by Co-Immunoprecipitation assay. To detect the influence of STAT1 and MUC4 expression, C57BL/6 mice model of EPEC infection in vivo and EPEC infected intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) in vitro model was established. Expressions of STAT1, MUC4, phosphorylated (p)-STAT1, proinflammatory cytokines, zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and AMP-related genes in mouse ileum and/or IEC were analyzed by immunohistochemical test, immunofluorescence assay, Western blot, and/or qRT-PCR. Meanwhile, IEC viability and apoptosis were measured using CCK-8 assay and flow cytometry.

p-STAT1, MUC4, ZO-1 and AMP-related gene were lowly expressed in the ileum of EPEC-infected mice. p-STAT1 and MUC4 bound to each other. The expressions of STAT1 and MUC4 were decreased in EPEC-infected IEC. Overexpression of STAT1 resisted EPEC-induced viability decrease, apoptosis promotion, ZO-1 activity inhibition, release of proinflammatory cytokines, and downregulation of MUC4 and AMP-related genes in IEC. MUC4 knockdown partly counteracted the effect of STAT1 overexpression, but did not affect the forced STAT1 overexpression in EPEC-infected IEC.

STAT1/MUC4 pathway activation promotes AMP production to mitigate intestinal epithelium barrier injury caused by EPEC infection.

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