The balance between various cellular subsets of the innate and adaptive immune system and microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract is carefully regulated to maintain tolerance to the normal flora and dietary antigens, while protecting against pathogens. The intestinal epithelial cells and the network of dendritic cells and macrophages in the lamina propria are crucial lines of defense that regulate this balance. The complex relationship between the myeloid compartment (dendritic cells and macrophages) and lymphocyte compartment (T cells and innate lymphoid cells), as well as the impact of the epithelial cell layer have been studied in depth in recent years, revealing that the regulatory and effector functions of both innate and adaptive immune compartments exhibit more plasticity than had been previously appreciated. However, little is known about the metabolic activity of these cellular compartments, which is the basic function underlying all other additional tasks the cells perform. Here we perform intravital NAD(P)H fluorescence lifetime imaging in the small intestine of fluorescent reporter mice to monitor the NAD(P)H-dependent metabolism of epithelial and myeloid cells. The majority of myeloid cells which comprise the surveilling network in the lamina propria have a low metabolic activity and remain resting even upon stimulation. Only a few myeloid cells, typically localized at the tip of the villi, are metabolically active and are able to activate NADPH oxidases upon stimulation, leading to an oxidative burst. In contrast, the epithelial cells are metabolically highly active and, although not considered professional phagocytes, are also able to activate NADPH oxidases, leading to massive production of reactive oxygen species. Whereas the oxidative burst in myeloid cells is mainly catalyzed by the NOX2 isotype, in epithelial cells other isotypes of the NADPH oxidases family are involved, especially NOX4. They are constitutively expressed by the epithelial cells, but activated only on demand to ensure rapid defense against pathogens. This minimizes the potential for inadvertent damage from resting NOX activation, while maintaining the capacity to respond quickly if needed.
Keywords: NADPH oxidase; fluorescence lifetime imaging; intravital imaging; metabolism; mucosal immunology.