The Spectrum and Regulatory Landscape of Intestinal Innate Lymphoid Cells Are Shaped by the Microbiome

Cell. 2016 Aug 25;166(5):1231-1246.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.07.043. Epub 2016 Aug 18.


Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are critical modulators of mucosal immunity, inflammation, and tissue homeostasis, but their full spectrum of cellular states and regulatory landscapes remains elusive. Here, we combine genome-wide RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, and ATAC-seq to compare the transcriptional and epigenetic identity of small intestinal ILCs, identifying thousands of distinct gene profiles and regulatory elements. Single-cell RNA-seq and flow and mass cytometry analyses reveal compartmentalization of cytokine expression and metabolic activity within the three classical ILC subtypes and highlight transcriptional states beyond the current canonical classification. In addition, using antibiotic intervention and germ-free mice, we characterize the effect of the microbiome on the ILC regulatory landscape and determine the response of ILCs to microbial colonization at the single-cell level. Together, our work characterizes the spectrum of transcriptional identities of small intestinal ILCs and describes how ILCs differentially integrate signals from the microbial microenvironment to generate phenotypic and functional plasticity.

Keywords: epigenome; innate lymphoid cells; microbiota; single-cell transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Chromatin
  • Cytokines