Succinate Produced by Intestinal Microbes Promotes Specification of Tuft Cells to Suppress Ileal Inflammation

Gastroenterology. 2020 Dec;159(6):2101-2115.e5. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.08.029. Epub 2020 Aug 21.


Background & aims: Countries endemic for parasitic infestations have a lower incidence of Crohn's disease (CD) than nonendemic countries, and there have been anecdotal reports of the beneficial effects of helminths in CD patients. Tuft cells in the small intestine sense and direct the immune response against eukaryotic parasites. We investigated the activities of tuft cells in patients with CD and mouse models of intestinal inflammation.

Methods: We used microscopy to quantify tuft cells in intestinal specimens from patients with ileal CD (n = 19), healthy individuals (n = 14), and TNFΔARE/+ mice, which develop Crohn's-like ileitis. We performed single-cell RNA sequencing, mass spectrometry, and microbiome profiling of intestinal tissues from wild-type and Atoh1-knockout mice, which have expansion of tuft cells, to study interactions between microbes and tuft cell populations. We assessed microbe dependence of tuft cell populations using microbiome depletion, organoids, and microbe transplant experiments. We used multiplex imaging and cytokine assays to assess alterations in inflammatory response following expansion of tuft cells with succinate administration in TNFΔARE/+ and anti-CD3E CD mouse models.

Results: Inflamed ileal tissues from patients and mice had reduced numbers of tuft cells, compared with healthy individuals or wild-type mice. Expansion of tuft cells was associated with increased expression of genes that regulate the tricarboxylic acid cycle, which resulted from microbe production of the metabolite succinate. Experiments in which we manipulated the intestinal microbiota of mice revealed the existence of an ATOH1-independent population of tuft cells that was sensitive to metabolites produced by microbes. Administration of succinate to mice expanded tuft cells and reduced intestinal inflammation in TNFΔARE/+ mice and anti-CD3E-treated mice, increased GATA3+ cells and type 2 cytokines (IL22, IL25, IL13), and decreased RORGT+ cells and type 17 cytokines (IL23) in a tuft cell-dependent manner.

Conclusions: We found that tuft cell expansion reduced chronic intestinal inflammation in mice. Strategies to expand tuft cells might be developed for treatment of CD.

Keywords: IBD; epithelium; heterogeneity; metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / immunology*
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / pathology
  • Crohn Disease / immunology*
  • Crohn Disease / microbiology
  • Crohn Disease / pathology
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Ileitis / immunology*
  • Ileitis / microbiology
  • Ileitis / pathology
  • Ileum / cytology
  • Ileum / immunology
  • Ileum / microbiology
  • Ileum / pathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Protective Factors
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • RNA-Seq
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Succinic Acid / immunology
  • Succinic Acid / metabolism


  • Atoh1 protein, mouse
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Succinic Acid