To investigate the effect and mechanism of moxibustion in rats with ulcerative colitis.
A rat colitis model was established by administering 4% dextran sulphate sodium solution. Seventy male rats were randomly divided into seven groups: Healthy controls (HC), ulcerative colitis model group (UC), UC with 7 d of moxibustion (UC-7), UC with 14 d of moxibustion (UC-14), UC with mesalazine gavage (UC-W), HC with 7 d of moxibustion (HC-7), HC with 14 d of moxibustion (HC-14). Moxibustion was applied to the bilateral Tianshu (ST25). Gut microbiome profiling was conducted by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, and PCR and ELISA determined the expression of inflammatory cytokines in colon mucosa and serum, respectively.
Moxibustion treatment restored the colonic mucosa and decreased submucosal inflammatory cell infiltration in colitis rats. Rats treated with moxibustion and mesalazine had significantly lower levels of the dominant phyla Proteobacteria and the genera Saccharibacteria, Sphingomonas and Barnesiella than colitis rats, and they could restore the microbiome to levels similar to those observed in healthy rats. UC rats had reduced alpha diversity, which could be alleviated by moxibustion therapy, and UC-7 had a higher alpha diversity than UC-14. This finding suggests that short-term (7 d) but no longer term (14 d) moxibustion treatment may significantly affect the gut microbiome. The potential bacterial functions affected by moxibustion may be ascorbate and aldarate metabolism, and amino acid metabolism. Compared with HC group, the levels of the cytokines interleukin-12 (IL-12) (P < 0.05) and IL-6, IL-17, IL-23, interferon-γ, lipopolysaccharide, IgA, tumour necrosis factor-α and its receptors 1 (TNFR1) and TNFR2 (P < 0.01) were all increased, whereas anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-2 and IL-10 (P < 0.01) and transforming growth factor-β (P < 0.05) were decreased in UC rats. These changes were reversed by moxibustion.
Our findings suggest that moxibustion exerts its therapeutic effect by repairing mucosal tissue damage and modulating the gut microbiome and intestinal mucosal immunity.