Background & aims: Lymphocytes primed by intestinal dendritic cells (DC) express the gut-homing receptors CCR9 and alpha4beta7, which recognize CCL25 and mucosal addressin cell-adhesion molecule-1 in the intestine promoting the development of regional immunity. In mice, imprinting of CCR9 and alpha4beta7 is dependent on retinoic acid during T-cell activation. Tissue specificity is lost in primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an extraintestinal manifestation of inflammatory bowel disease, when ectopic expression of mucosal addressin cell-adhesion molecule-1 and CCL25 in the liver promotes recruitment of CCR9+alpha4beta7+ T cells to the liver. We investigated the processes that control enterohepatic T-cell migration and whether the ability to imprint CCR9 and alpha4beta7 is restricted to intestinal DCs or can under some circumstances be acquired by hepatic DCs in diseases such as PSC.
Methods: Human and murine DCs from gut, liver, or portal lymph nodes and hepatic stellate cells were used to activate CD8 T cells. Imprinting of CCR9 and alpha4beta7 and functional migration responses were determined. Crossover activation protocols assessed plasticity of gut homing.
Results: Activation by gut DCs imprinted high levels of functional CCR9 and alpha4beta7 on naïve CD8 T cells, whereas hepatic DCs and stellate cells proved inferior. Imprinting was RA dependent and demonstrated plasticity.
Conclusions: Imprinting and plasticity of gut-homing human CD8 T cells requires primary activation or reactivation by gut DCs and is retinoic acid dependent. The inability of liver DCs to imprint gut tropism implies that alpha4beta7+CCR9+ T cell that infiltrate the liver in PSC are primed in the gut.