Lactobacillus reuteri induces gut intraepithelial CD4+CD8αα+ T cells

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Science  25 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6353, pp. 806-810
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah5825

Tolerogenic T cells need probiotics

CD4+CD8αα+ double-positive intraepithelial lymphocytes (DP IELs) are a recently discovered class of intestinal T cells believed to take part in a variety of immune responses, including oral tolerance. These cells are absent in germ-free mice, but the mechanisms driving their development are unclear. Cervantes-Barragan et al. found that a particular species of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri, induces DP IELs. This does not occur by stimulating the immune system directly. Instead, L. reuteri generates a specific derivative of dietary tryptophan that promotes differentiation of DP IEL precursors. These findings underscore the delicate interplay between benign bacteria, diet, and gut health.

Science, this issue p. 806


The small intestine contains CD4+CD8αα+ double-positive intraepithelial lymphocytes (DP IELs), which originate from intestinal CD4+ T cells through down-regulation of the transcription factor Thpok and have regulatory functions. DP IELs are absent in germ-free mice, which suggests that their differentiation depends on microbial factors. We found that DP IEL numbers in mice varied in different vivaria, correlating with the presence of Lactobacillus reuteri. This species induced DP IELs in germ-free mice and conventionally-raised mice lacking these cells. L. reuteri did not shape the DP-IEL-TCR (TCR, T cell receptor) repertoire but generated indole derivatives of tryptophan that activated the aryl-hydrocarbon receptor in CD4+ T cells, allowing Thpok down-regulation and differentiation into DP IELs. Thus, L. reuteri, together with a tryptophan-rich diet, can reprogram intraepithelial CD4+ T cells into immunoregulatory T cells.

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