ATF2 and ATF7 Are Critical Mediators of Intestinal Epithelial Repair

Background & Aims

Activation factor-1 transcription factor family members activating transcription factors 2 and 7 (ATF2 and ATF7) have highly redundant functions owing to highly homologous DNA binding sites. Their role in intestinal epithelial homeostasis and repair is unknown. Here, we assessed the role of these proteins in these conditions in an intestine-specific mouse model.


We performed in vivo and ex vivo experiments using Villin-CreERT2Atf2fl/flAtf7ko/ko mice. We investigated the effects of intestinal epithelium-specific deletion of the Atf2 DNA binding region in Atf7-/- mice on cellular proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and epithelial barrier function under homeostatic conditions. Subsequently, we exposed mice to 2% dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) for 7 days and 12 Gy whole-body irradiation and assessed the response to epithelial damage.


Activating phosphorylation of ATF2 and ATF7 was detected mainly in the crypts of the small intestine and the lower crypt region of the colonic epithelium. Under homeostatic conditions, no major phenotypic changes were detectable in the intestine of ATF mutant mice. However, on DSS exposure or whole-body irradiation, the intestinal epithelium showed a clearly impaired regenerative response. Mutant mice developed severe ulceration and inflammation associated with increased epithelial apoptosis on DSS exposure and were less able to regenerate colonic crypts on irradiation. In vitro, organoids derived from double-mutant epithelium had a growth disadvantage compared with wild-type organoids, impaired wound healing capacity in scratch assay, and increased sensitivity to tumor necrosis factor-α–induced damage.


ATF2 and ATF7 are dispensable for epithelial homeostasis, but are required to maintain epithelial regenerative capacity and protect against cell death during intestinal epithelial damage and repair.


Bartolomeus J. Meijer, Francesca P. Giugliano, Bart Baan, Jonathan H.M. van der Meer, Sander Meisner, Manon van Roest, Pim K. Koelink, Ruben J. de Boer, Nic Jones, Wolfgang Breitwieser, Nicole N. van der Wel, Manon E. Wildenberg, Gijs R. van den Brink, Jarom Heijmans, and Vanesa Muncan