Evidence of enteric angiopathy and neuromuscular hypoxia in patients with mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy

Elisa Boschetti, Roberto D'Angelo, Maria Lucia Tardio, Roberta Costa, Carla Giordano, Anna Accarino, Carolina Malagelada, Paolo Clavenzani, Vitaliano Tugnoli, Giacomo Caio, Valeria Righi, Caterina Garone, Antonietta D'Errico, Giovanna Cenacchi, Maria Teresa Dotti, Vincenzo Stanghellini, Catia Sternini, Loris Pironi, Rita Rinaldi, Valerio CarelliRoberto De Giorgio

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Mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy (MNGIE) is a rare autosomal recessive disease caused by thymidine phosphorylase (TP) enzyme defect. As gastrointestinal changes do not revert in patients undergone TP replacement therapy, one can postulate that other unexplored mechanisms contribute to MNGIE pathophysiology. Hence, we focused on the local TP angiogenic potential that has never been considered in MNGIE. In this study, we investigated the enteric submucosal microvasculature and the effect of hypoxia on fibrosis and enteric neurons density in jejunal full-thickness biopsies collected from patients with MNGIE. Orcein staining was used to count blood vessels based on their size. Fibrosis was assessed using the Sirius Red and Fast Green method. Hypoxia and neoangiogenesis were determined via hypoxia-inducible-factor-1α (HIF-1α) and vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF) protein expression, respectively. Neuron-specific enolase was used to label enteric neurons. Compared with controls, patients with MNGIE showed a decreased area of vascular tissue, but a twofold increase of submucosal vessels/mm2 with increased small size and decreased medium and large size vessels. VEGF positive vessels, fibrosis index, and HIF-1α protein expression were increased, whereas there was a diminished thickness of the longitudinal muscle layer with an increased interganglionic distance and reduced number of myenteric neurons. We demonstrated the occurrence of an angiopathy in the GI tract of patients with MNGIE. Neoangiogenetic changes, as detected by the abundance of small size vessels in the jejunal submucosa, along with hypoxia provide a morphological basis to explain neuromuscular alterations, vasculature breakdown, and ischemic abnormalities in MNGIE.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalomyopathy (MNGIE) is characterized by a genetically driven defect of thymidine phosphorylase, a multitask enzyme playing a role also in angiogenesis. Indeed, major gastrointestinal bleedings are life-threatening complications of MNGIE. Thus, we focused on jejunal submucosal vasculature and showed intestinal microangiopathy as a novel feature occurring in this disease. Notably, vascular changes were associated with neuromuscular abnormalities, which may explain gut dysfunction and help to develop future therapeutic approaches in MNGIE.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G768-G779
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • Gastrointestinal Tract/metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction/metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathies/metabolism
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Oculopharyngeal/metabolism
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic/metabolism
  • Ophthalmoplegia/congenital
  • Thymidine Phosphorylase/metabolism


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