The effect of ionizing radiation on the gastrointestinal tract is a common complication of abdominal and pelvic radiotherapy. However, the pathological features of radiation enteropathy and its effective medical intervention regimen is still a global challenge. Here, we explored the role and mechanism of enteric alpha-defensins (EαDs) in protecting against radiation enteropathy. To address this, we utilized EαDs-deficiency mice, in which the matrix metallopeptidase 7 to activate Paneth cell α-defensins was knockout (KO) mice, and the complementary wild-type (WT) control mice for this study. Remarkably, the KO mice were more susceptible to 5.0 Gy total-body irradiation, resulting in worse clinic scores and lower survival rate, compared with the wild-type mice. Histological examination indicated that the KO mice were subjected to slow recovery of intestinal villus and mucosa function, characterized by the reduced expression of TFF3, Glut1 and Muc2. In addition, compared with the wild-type controls, the KO mice experienced serious inflammation response in intestinal tissue, indicated by the remarkably increased expression level of IL-1β, IL-6 and IL-12. Using high-throughput sequencing analysis, we found that the intestinal bacterial community of the KO mice was more prone to dysbiosis than that of the WT mice, with significantly increased abundance of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria, such as Streptococcus sp. and Escherichia-Shigella sp., whereas remarkably decreased probiotics harboring Lactobacillus sp., Desulfovibrio sp. etc. Fecal metabolomics analysis indicated that the relative abundance of 31 metabolites arose significantly different between WT and KO mice on day 10 after radiation exposure. A subset of differential metabolites to regulate host metabolism and immunity, such as acetic acid, acetate, butanoic acid, was negatively correlated with the alteration of gut microbiota in the irradiated KO mice. This study provides new insight into EαDs contribution to the recovery of radiation-induced intestinal damage, and suggests a potential novel target to prevent the adverse effects of radiotherapy.

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