In both Western and Westernized diets, together with a relatively high amount of cholesterol, variable amountsof its oxidized metabolites, oxysterols, are consistently consumed. These oxysterols, mostly of non-enzymatic origin, are produced during sterol autoxidation in foodstuff manufacturing and storage.
This study aimed to analyze the potential enterotoxic effects of all main oxysterols of non-enzymatic origin so far identified in a variety of foods.
Differentiated human intestinal cell monolayers (CaCo-2) were incubated up to 48 h in the presence or absence of 0.5, 1 or 5 µM with one out of seven non-enzymatic oxysterols, prior to the verification of minimal irreversible cell damage within the chosen concentration range.
All tested oxysterols were proven to exert damaging effects on cell monolayers in vitro. The inflammatory interleukin-8 and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 were mostly upregulated by 7-ketocholesterol and 7β-hydroxycholesterol, respectively, then to a lower extent by 5α,6α-epoxycholesterol, 7α-hydroxycholesterol and 5β,6β-epoxycholesterol. 7-Ketocholesterol and 7β-hydroxycholesterol also appeared to be most effective in impairing claudin-1, occludin and E-cadherin proteins, followed by 25-hydroxycholesterol and triol.
The oxysterols consistently derived by food autoxidation were tested; they potentially impaired the integrity of the intestinal epithelial barrier and triggered an inflammatory response within 0.5–5 µM concentrations, easily reachable in a single Western meal.
This comprehensive analysis focused on the potential impairment of the intestinal barrier by the main dietary non-enzymatic oxysterols, should guide further nutrition research aiming at defining a threshold amount of these cholesterol derivatives in order not to derange the physiological gut–brain axis.