The conducting airways are lined by distinct cell types, comprising basal, secretory, ciliated, and rare cells, including ionocytes, solitary cholinergic chemosensory cells, and solitary and clustered (neuroepithelial bodies) neuroendocrine cells. Airway neuroendocrine cells are in clinical focus since they can give rise to small cell lung cancer. They have been implicated in diverse functions including mechanosensation, chemosensation, and regeneration, and were recently identified as regulators of type 2 immune responses via the release of the neuropeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). We here assessed the expression of the chemokine CXCL13 (B cell attracting chemokine) by these cells by RT-PCR, in silico analysis of publicly available sequencing data sets, immunohistochemistry, and immuno-electron microscopy. We identify a phenotype of neuroendocrine cells in the naïve mouse, producing the chemokine CXCL13 predominantly in solitary neuroendocrine cells of the tracheal epithelium (approx. 70% CXCL13+) and, to a lesser extent, in the solitary neuroendocrine cells and neuroepithelial bodies of the intrapulmonary bronchial epithelium (< 10% CXCL13+). In silico analysis of published sequencing data of murine tracheal epithelial cells was consistent with the results obtained by immunohistochemistry as it revealed that neuroendocrine cells are the major source of Cxcl13-mRNA, which was expressed by 68-79% of neuroendocrine cells. An unbiased scRNA-seq data analysis of overall gene expression did not yield subclusters of neuroendocrine cells. Our observation demonstrates phenotypic heterogeneity of airway neuroendocrine cells and points towards a putative immunoregulatory role of these cells in bronchial-associated lymphoid tissue formation and B cell homeostasis.
Keywords: Airway epithelium; BALT; CXCL13; Innate immunity; Neuroendocrine cells; Neuroepithelial bodies.
© 2021. The Author(s).