It is well known that essential oil thymol exhibits antibacterial activity. The protective effects of thymol on pig intestine during inflammation is yet to be investigated. In this study, an in vitro lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced inflammation model using IPEC-J2 cells was established. Cells were pre-treated with thymol for 1 h and then exposed to LPS for various assays. Interleukin 8 (IL-8) secretion, the mRNA abundance of cytokines, reactive oxygen species (ROS), nutrient transporters, and tight junction proteins was measured. The results showed that LPS stimulation increased IL-8 secretion, ROS production, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) mRNA abundance (P<0.05), but the mRNA abundance of sodium-dependent glucose transporter 1 (SGLT1), excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (EAAC1) and H+/peptide cotransporter 1 (PepT1) were decreased (P<0.05). Thymol blocked ROS production (P<0.05) and tended to decrease the production of LPS-induced IL-8 secretion (P = 0.0766). The mRNA abundance of IL-8 and TNF-α was reduced by thymol pre-treatment (P<0.05), but thymol did not improve the gene expression of nutrient transporters (P>0.05). The transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) was reduced and cell permeability increased by LPS treatment (P<0.05), but these effects were attenuated by thymol (P<0.05). Moreover, thymol increased zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and actin staining in the cells. However, the mRNA abundance of ZO-1 and occludin-3 was not affected by either LPS or thymol treatments. These results indicated that thymol enhances barrier function and reduce ROS production and pro-inflammatory cytokine gene expression in the epithelial cells during inflammation. The regulation of barrier function by thymol and LPS may be at post-transcriptional or post-translational levels.
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