skip to main content

Title: Epigenetically regulated digital signaling defines epithelial innate immunity at the tissue level

To prevent damage to the host or its commensal microbiota, epithelial tissues must match the intensity of the immune response to the severity of a biological threat. Toll-like receptors allow epithelial cells to identify microbe associated molecular patterns. However, the mechanisms that mitigate biological noise in single cells to ensure quantitatively appropriate responses remain unclear. Here we address this question using single cell and single molecule approaches in mammary epithelial cells and primary organoids. We find that epithelial tissues respond to bacterial microbe associated molecular patterns by activating a subset of cells in an all-or-nothing (i.e. digital) manner. The maximum fraction of responsive cells is regulated by a bimodal epigenetic switch that licenses the TLR2 promoter for transcription across multiple generations. This mechanism confers a flexible memory of inflammatory events as well as unique spatio-temporal control of epithelial tissue-level immune responses. We propose that epigenetic licensing in individual cells allows for long-term, quantitative fine-tuning of population-level responses.

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1817447 1844994
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Background

    Crohn’s disease is a lifelong disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Defining the cellular and transcriptional composition of the mucosa at different stages of disease progression is needed for personalized therapy in Crohn’s.


    Ileal biopsies were obtained from (1) control subjects (n = 6), (2) treatment-naïve patients (n = 7), and (3) established (n = 14) Crohn’s patients along with remission (n = 3) and refractory (n = 11) treatment groups. The biopsies processed using 10x Genomics single cell 5' yielded 139 906 cells. Gene expression count matrices of all samples were analyzed by reciprocal principal component integration, followed by clustering analysis. Manual annotations of the clusters were performed using canonical gene markers. Cell type proportions, differential expression analysis, and gene ontology enrichment were carried out for each cell type.


    We identified 3 cellular compartments with 9 epithelial, 1 stromal, and 5 immune cell subtypes. We observed differences in the cellular composition between control, treatment-naïve, and established groups, with the significant changes in the epithelial subtypes of the treatment-naïve patients, including microfold, tuft, goblet, enterocyte,s and BEST4+ cells. Surprisingly, fewer changes in the composition of the immune compartment were observed; however, gene expression in the epithelial and immune compartment was different between Crohn’s phenotypes, indicating changes inmore »cellular activity.


    Our study identified cellular and transcriptional signatures associated with treatment-naïve Crohn’s disease that collectively point to dysfunction of the intestinal barrier with an increase in inflammatory cellular activity. Our analysis also highlights the heterogeneity among patients within the same disease phenotype, shining a new light on personalized treatment responses and strategies.

    « less
  2. Abstract

    The ability to program collective cell migration can allow us to control critical multicellular processes in development, regenerative medicine, and invasive disease. However, while various technologies exist to make individual cells migrate, translating these tools to control myriad, collectively interacting cells within a single tissue poses many challenges. For instance, do cells within the same tissue interpret a global migration ‘command’ differently based on where they are in the tissue? Similarly, since no stimulus is permanent, what are the long-term effects of transient commands on collective cell dynamics? We investigate these questions by bioelectrically programming large epithelial tissues to globally migrate ‘rightward’ via electrotaxis. Tissues clearly developed distinct rear, middle, side, and front responses to a single global migration stimulus. Furthermore, at no point poststimulation did tissues return to their prestimulation behavior, instead equilibrating to a 3rd, new migratory state. These unique dynamics suggested that programmed migration resets tissue mechanical state, which was confirmed by transient chemical disruption of cell–cell junctions, analysis of strain wave propagation patterns, and quantification of cellular crowd dynamics. Overall, this work demonstrates how externally driving the collective migration of a tissue can reprogram baseline cell–cell interactions and collective dynamics, even well beyond the endmore »of the global migratory cue, and emphasizes the importance of considering the supracellular context of tissues and other collectives when attempting to program crowd behaviors.

    « less
  3. Paneth cells are the primary source of C-type lysozyme, a b-1,4-N-acetylmuramoylhydrolase that enzymatically processes bacterial cell walls. Paneth cells are normally present in human cecum and ascending colon, but are rarely found in descending colon and rectum; Paneth cell metaplasia in this region and aberrant lysozyme production are hallmarks of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) pathology. Here, we examined the impact of aberrant lysozyme production in colonic inflammation. Targeted disruption of Paneth cell lysozyme (Lyz1) protected mice from experimental colitis. Lyz1-deficiency diminished intestinal immune responses to bacterial molecular patterns and resulted in the expansion of lysozyme-sensitive mucolytic bacteria, including Ruminococcus gnavus, a Crohn’s disease-associated pathobiont. Ectopic lysozyme production in colonic epithelium suppressed lysozyme-sensitive bacteria and exacerbated colitis. Transfer of R. gnavus into Lyz1/ hosts elicited a type 2 immune response, causing epithelial reprograming and enhanced anti-colitogenic capacity. In contrast, in lysozyme-intact hosts, processed R. gnavus drove pro-inflammatory responses. Thus, Paneth cell lysozyme balances intestinal anti- and pro-inflammatory responses, with implications for IBD.
  4. Commensal bacteria influence host physiology, without invading host tissues. We show that proteins from segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) are transferred into intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) through adhesion-directed endocytosis that is distinct from the clathrin-dependent endocytosis of invasive pathogens. This process transfers microbial cell wall–associated proteins, including an antigen that stimulates mucosal T helper 17 (T H 17) cell differentiation, into the cytosol of IECs in a cell division control protein 42 homolog (CDC42)–dependent manner. Removal of CDC42 activity in vivo led to disruption of endocytosis induced by SFB and decreased epithelial antigen acquisition, with consequent loss of mucosal T H 17 cells. Our findings demonstrate direct communication between a resident gut microbe and the host and show that under physiological conditions, IECs acquire antigens from commensal bacteria for generation of T cell responses to the resident microbiota.
  5. Abstract

    Macrophages perform critical functions for homeostasis and immune defense in tissues throughout the body. These innate immune cells are capable of recognizing and clearing dead cells and pathogens, and orchestrating inflammatory and healing processes that occur in response to injury. In addition, macrophages are involved in the progression of many inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, fibrosis, and cancer. Although it has long been known that macrophages respond dynamically to biochemical signals in their microenvironment, the role of biophysical cues has only recently emerged. Furthermore, many diseases that involve macrophages are also characterized by changes to the tissue biophysical environment. This review will discuss current knowledge about the effects of biophysical cues including matrix stiffness, material topography, and applied mechanical forces, on macrophage behavior. We will also describe the role of molecules that are known to be important for mechanotransduction, including adhesion molecules, ion channels, as well as nuclear mediators such as transcription factors, scaffolding proteins, and epigenetic regulators. Together, this review will illustrate a developing role of biophysical cues in macrophage biology, and also speculate upon molecular targets that may potentially be exploited therapeutically to treat disease.