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Production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the intestinal lumen may play an important role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. However, overproduction/accumulation of SCFA in the bowel may be toxic to the intestinal mucosa and has been hypothesized to play a role in the pathogenesis of neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). By using a Caco-2 cell monolayer model of intestinal barrier, we report here that the effect of butyrate on the intestinal barrier is paradoxical. Butyrate at a low concentration (2 mM) promotes intestinal barrier function as measured by a significant increase in transepithelial electrical resistance (TER) and a significant decrease in inulin permeability. Butyrate at a high concentration (8 mM) reduces TER and increases inulin permeability significantly. Butyrate induces apoptosis and reduces the number of viable Caco-2 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Intestinal barrier function impairment induced by high concentrations of butyrate is most likely related to butyrate-induced cytotoxicity due to apoptosis. We conclude that the effect of butyrate on the intestinal barrier is paradoxical; i.e. whereas low concentrations of butyrate may be beneficial in promoting intestinal barrier function, excessive butyrate may induce severe intestinal epithelial cell apoptosis and disrupt intestinal barrier.

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