Chemokines, a large family of small chemoattractive cytokines, and their receptors play an integral role in the regulation of the immune response and homeostasis. The ability of chemokines to attract specific populations of immune cells sets them apart from other chemoattractants. Chemokines produced within the gastrointestinal mucosa are critical players in directing the balance between physiological and pathophysiological inflammation in health, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and the progression to colon cancer. In addition to the well-characterized role of chemokines in directed trafficking of immune cells to the gut mucosa, the expression of chemokine receptors on the cells of the epithelium makes them active participants in the chemokine signaling network. Recent findings demonstrate an important role for chemokines and chemokine receptors in epithelial barrier repair and maintenance as well as an intricate involvement in limiting metastasis of colonic carcinoma. Increased recognition of the association between barrier defects and inflammation and the subsequent progression to cancer in IBD thus implicates chemokines as key regulators of mucosal homeostasis and disease pathogenesis.
(Inflamm Bowel Dis 2008)