Activation of β-Catenin in Dendritic Cells Regulates Immunity Versus Tolerance in the Intestine

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Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 849-853
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188510

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A Gut Feeling

Special immune controls are necessary in the gut to prevent the immune system from reacting to the commensal microbiota and to food antigens. Dendritic cells (DCs) are important for maintaining gut tolerance because they help to keep T cells in an unresponsive state. However, in other environments, DCs activate T cells. What signals determine whether DCs induce T cell tolerance or activation? Manicassamy et al. (p. 849; see the Perspective by Mellman and Clausen) found that β-catenin–dependent signaling is required for maintaining DC-mediated gut tolerance in mice. Wnt ligands were expressed in the gut, and β-catenin signaling was activated in DCs in the small and large intestines but not in the spleen. When β-catenin was specifically deleted from DCs in mice, the frequency of regulatory T cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines was reduced, whereas the frequency of pro-inflammatory T helper 1 and T helper 17 cells and their associated cytokines was increased. Mice lacking β-catenin in dendritic cells also exhibited enhanced susceptibility in a mouse model of colitis.


Dendritic cells (DCs) play a vital role in initiating robust immunity against pathogens as well as maintaining immunological tolerance to self antigens. However, the intracellular signaling networks that program DCs to become tolerogenic remain unknown. We report here that the Wnt–β-catenin signaling in intestinal dendritic cells regulates the balance between inflammatory versus regulatory responses in the gut. β-catenin in intestinal dendritic cells was required for the expression of anti-inflammatory mediators such as retinoic acid–metabolizing enzymes, interleukin-10, and transforming growth factor–β, and the stimulation of regulatory T cell induction while suppressing inflammatory effector T cells. Furthermore, ablation of β-catenin expression in DCs enhanced inflammatory responses and disease in a mouse model of inflammatory bowel disease. Thus, β-catenin signaling programs DCs to a tolerogenic state, limiting the inflammatory response.

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