Glucocorticoids and Androgens Protect From Gastric Metaplasia by Suppressing Group 2 Innate Lymphoid Cell Activation

Gastroenterology. 2021 Aug;161(2):637-652.e4. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.04.075. Epub 2021 May 7.


Background & aims: The immune compartment is critical for maintaining tissue homeostasis. A weak immune response increases susceptibility to infection, but immune hyperactivation causes tissue damage, and chronic inflammation may lead to cancer development. In the stomach, inflammation damages the gastric glands and drives the development of potentially preneoplastic metaplasia. Glucocorticoids are potent anti-inflammatory steroid hormones that are required to suppress gastric inflammation and metaplasia. However, these hormones function differently in males and females. Here, we investigate the impact of sex on the regulation of gastric inflammation.

Methods: Endogenous glucocorticoids and male sex hormones were removed from mice using adrenalectomy and castration, respectively. Mice were treated with 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) to test the effects of androgens on regulating gastric inflammation. Single-cell RNA sequencing of gastric leukocytes was used to identify the leukocyte populations that were the direct targets of androgen signaling. Type 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) were depleted by treatment with CD90.2 antibodies.

Results: We show that adrenalectomized female mice develop spontaneous gastric inflammation and spasmolytic polypeptide-expressing metaplasia (SPEM) but that the stomachs of adrenalectomized male mice remain quantitatively normal. Simultaneous depletion of glucocorticoids and sex hormones abolished the male-protective effects and triggered spontaneous pathogenic gastric inflammation and SPEM. Treatment of female mice with DHT prevented gastric inflammation and SPEM development when administered concurrent with adrenalectomy and also reversed the pathology when administered after disease onset. Single-cell RNAseq of gastric leukocytes revealed that ILC2s expressed abundant levels of both the glucocorticoid receptor (Gr) and androgen receptor (Ar). We demonstrated that DHT treatment potently suppressed the expression of the proinflammatory cytokines Il13 and Csf2 by ILC2s. Moreover, ILC2 depletion protected the stomach from SPEM development.

Conclusions: Here, we report a novel mechanism by which glucocorticoids and androgens exert overlapping effects to regulate gastric inflammation. Androgen signaling within ILC2s prevents their pathogenic activation by suppressing the transcription of proinflammatory cytokines. This work revealed a critical role for sex hormones in regulating gastric inflammation and metaplasia.

Keywords: Gastric; ILC2; Macrophage; SPEM; Stomach.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenalectomy
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cellular Microenvironment
  • Dihydrotestosterone / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Gastric Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Gastric Mucosa / immunology
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Gastric Mucosa / pathology
  • Gastritis, Atrophic / immunology
  • Gastritis, Atrophic / metabolism*
  • Gastritis, Atrophic / pathology
  • Gastritis, Atrophic / prevention & control
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / genetics
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Interleukin-13 / genetics
  • Interleukin-13 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-33 / genetics
  • Interleukin-33 / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metaplasia
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Orchiectomy
  • Receptors, Androgen / genetics
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / genetics
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Sex Factors
  • Signal Transduction
  • Thy-1 Antigens / genetics
  • Thy-1 Antigens / metabolism


  • AR protein, mouse
  • Androgens
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Il33 protein, mouse
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Interleukin-13
  • Interleukin-33
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Thy-1 Antigens
  • spasmolytic polypeptide
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • RAG-1 protein
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor