The Francis Crick Institute
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The environmental sensor AHR protects from inflammatory damage by maintaining intestinal stem cell homeostasis and barrier integrity

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-09-07, 11:09 authored by Amina Metidji, Sara Omenetti, Stefania Crotta, Ying Li, Emma Nye, Ellie Ross, Vivian Li, Muralidhara R Maradana, Chris Schiering, Brigitta Stockinger
The epithelium and immune compartment in the intestine are constantly exposed to a fluctuating external environment. Defective communication between these compartments at this barrier surface underlies susceptibility to infections and chronic inflammation. Environmental factors play a significant, but mechanistically poorly understood, role in intestinal homeostasis. We found that regeneration of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) upon injury through infection or chemical insults was profoundly influenced by the environmental sensor aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). IEC-specific deletion of Ahr resulted in failure to control C. rodentium infection due to unrestricted intestinal stem cell (ISC) proliferation and impaired differentiation, culminating in malignant transformation. AHR activation by dietary ligands restored barrier homeostasis, protected the stem cell niche, and prevented tumorigenesis via transcriptional regulation of of Rnf43 and Znrf3, E3 ubiquitin ligases that inhibit Wnt-β-catenin signaling and restrict ISC proliferation. Thus, activation of the AHR pathway in IECs guards the stem cell niche to maintain intestinal barrier integrity.