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Immunity. 2012 Jan 27;36(1):92-104. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2011.11.011. Epub 2011 Dec 15.

The aryl hydrocarbon receptor regulates gut immunity through modulation of innate lymphoid cells.

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Department of Pathology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) expressing the nuclear receptor RORγt are essential for gut immunity presumably through production of interleukin-22 (IL-22). The molecular mechanism underlying the development of RORγt(+) ILCs is poorly understood. Here, we have shown that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (Ahr) plays an essential role in RORγt(+) ILC maintenance and function. Expression of Ahr in the hematopoietic compartment was important for accumulation of adult but not fetal intestinal RORγt(+) ILCs. Without Ahr, RORγt(+) ILCs had increased apoptosis and less production of IL-22. RORγt interacted with Ahr and promoted Ahr binding at the Il22 locus. Upon IL-23 stimulation, Ahr-deficient RORγt(+) ILCs had reduced IL-22 expression, consistent with downregulation of IL-23R in those cells. Ahr-deficient mice succumbed to Citrobacter rodentium infection, whereas ectopic expression of IL-22 protected animals from early mortality. Our data uncover a previously unrecognized physiological role for Ahr in promoting innate gut immunity by regulating RORγt(+) ILCs.

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