Stricturing Crohn's Disease Single-Cell RNA Sequencing Reveals Fibroblast Heterogeneity and Intercellular Interactions

Gastroenterology. 2023 Nov;165(5):1180-1196. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2023.07.014. Epub 2023 Jul 26.


Background & aims: Fibroblasts play a key role in stricture formation in Crohn's disease (CD) but understanding its pathogenesis requires a systems-level investigation to uncover new treatment targets. We studied full-thickness CD tissues to characterize fibroblast heterogeneity and function by generating the first single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) atlas of strictured bowel and providing proof of principle for therapeutic target validation.

Methods: We performed scRNAseq of 13 fresh full-thickness CD resections containing noninvolved, inflamed nonstrictured, and strictured segments as well as 7 normal non-CD bowel segments. Each segment was separated into mucosa/submucosa or muscularis propria and analyzed separately for a total of 99 tissue samples and 409,001 cells. We validated cadherin-11 (CDH11) as a potential therapeutic target by using whole tissues, isolated intestinal cells, NanoString nCounter, next-generation sequencing, proteomics, and animal models.

Results: Our integrated dataset revealed fibroblast heterogeneity in strictured CD with the majority of stricture-selective changes detected in the mucosa/submucosa, but not the muscle layer. Cell-cell interaction modeling revealed CXCL14+ as well as MMP/WNT5A+ fibroblasts displaying a central signaling role in CD strictures. CDH11, a fibroblast cell-cell adhesion molecule, was broadly expressed and up-regulated, and its profibrotic function was validated using NanoString nCounter, RNA sequencing, tissue target expression, in vitro gain- and loss-of-function experiments, proteomics, and knock-out and antibody-mediated CDH11 blockade in experimental colitis.

Conclusions: A full-thickness bowel scRNAseq atlas revealed previously unrecognized fibroblast heterogeneity and interactions in CD strictures and CDH11 was validated as a potential therapeutic target. These results provide a new resource for a better understanding of CD stricture formation and open potential therapeutic developments. This work has been posted as a preprint on Biorxiv under doi: 10.1101/2023.04.03.534781.

Keywords: Crohn’s; Single Cell; Stricture; Therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colitis* / pathology
  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Crohn Disease* / genetics
  • Crohn Disease* / pathology
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Intestines / pathology