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The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma) is highly expressed in the colon mucosa and its activation has been reported to protect against colitis. We studied the involvement of PPARgamma and its heterodimeric partner, the retinoid X receptor (RXR) in intestinal inflammatory responses. PPARgamma(1/)- and RXRalpha(1/)- mice both displayed a significantly enhanced susceptibility to 2,4,6-trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid (TNBS)-induced colitis compared with their wild-type littermates. A role for the RXR/PPARgamma heterodimer in the protection against colon inflammation was explored by the use of selective RXR and PPARgamma agonists. TNBS-induced colitis was significantly reduced by the administration of both PPARgamma and RXR agonists. This beneficial effect was reflected by increased survival rates, an improvement of macroscopic and histologic scores, a decrease in tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 1beta mRNA levels, a diminished myeloperoxidase concentration, and reduction of nuclear factor kappaB DNA binding activity, c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase, and p38 activities in the colon. When coadministered, a significant synergistic effect of PPARgamma and RXR ligands was observed. In combination, these data demonstrate that activation of the RXR/PPARgamma heterodimer protects against colon inflammation and suggest that combination therapy with both RXR and PPARgamma ligands might hold promise in the clinic due to their synergistic effects.