BACKGROUND & AIMS:
Interferon lambda (IFNL) is expressed at high levels by intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and mucosal immune cells in response to infection and inflammation. We investigated whether IFNL might contribute to pathogenesis of Crohn´s disease (CD).
We obtained serum samples and terminal ileum biopsies from 47 patients with CD and 16 healthy individuals (controls). We measured levels of IFNL by ELISA and immunohistochemistry and location of expression by confocal microscopy. Activation of IFNL signaling via STAT1 was measured in areas of no, mild, moderate, and severe inflammation and correlated with Paneth cell homeostasis and inflammation. IFNL expression and function were studied in wild-type mice and mice with intestinal epithelial cell-specific (ΔIEC) disruption or full-body disruption of specific genes (Mlkl-/-, Stat1ΔIEC, Casp8ΔIEC, Casp8ΔIECRipk3-/-, Casp8ΔIECTnfr-/-, Casp8ΔIECMlkl-/-, and Nod2-/-mice). Some mice were given tail vein injections of a vector encoding a secreted form of IFNL. Intestinal tissues were collected from mice and analyzed by immunohistochemistry and immunoblots. We generated 3-dimensional small intestinal organoids from mice and studied the effects of IFNL and inhibitors of signaling.
Patients with CD had significant increases in serum and ileal levels of IFNL compared with controls. Levels of IFNL were highest in ileum tissues with severe inflammation. High levels of IFNL associated with a reduced number of Paneth cells and increased cell death at the crypt bottom in inflamed ileum samples. Intestine tissues from the ileum of wild-type mice injected with a vector expressing IFNL had reduced numbers of Paneth cells. IFNL-induced death of Paneth cells in mice did not occur via apoptosis, but required MLKL and activation of STAT1. In organoids, inhibitors of JAK signaling via STAT1 (glucocorticoids, tofacitinib, or filgotinib) reduced expression of proteins that mediate cell death and prevented Paneth cell death.
Levels of IFNL are increased in serum and inflamed ileal tissues from patients with CD and associated with a loss of Paneth cells. Expression of a secreted form of IFNL in mice results in loss of Paneth cells from intestinal tissues, via STAT1 and MLKL, controlled by caspase 8. Strategies to reduce IFNL or block its effects might be developed for treatment of patients with CD affecting the terminal ileum.