Organoids as a tool to study homeostatic and pathological immune-epithelial interactions in the gut

Clin Exp Immunol. 2024 Mar 29:uxad118. doi: 10.1093/cei/uxad118. Online ahead of print.


The intestine hosts the largest immune cell compartment in the body as a result of its continuous exposure to exogenous antigens. The intestinal barrier is formed by a single layer of epithelial cells which separate immune cells from the gut lumen. Bidirectional interactions between the epithelium and the immune compartment are critical for maintaining intestinal homeostasis by limiting infection, preventing excessive immune activation, and promoting tissue repair processes. However, our understanding of epithelial-immune interactions incomplete as the complexity of in vivo models can hinder mechanistic studies, cell culture models lack the cellular heterogeneity of the intestine and when established from primary cell can be difficult to maintain. In the last decade, organoids have emerged as a reliable model of the intestine, recapitulating key cellular and architectural features of native tissues. Herein, we provide an overview of how intestinal organoids are being co-cultured with immune cells leading to substantial advances in our understanding of immune-epithelial interactions in the gut. This has enabled new discoveries of the immune contribution to epithelial maintenance and regeneration both in homeostasis and in disease such as chronic inflammation, infection and cancer. Organoids can additionally be used to generate immune cells with a tissue-specific phenotype and to investigate the impact of disease associated risk genes on the intestinal immune environment. Accordingly, this review demonstrates the multitude of applications for intestinal organoids in immunological research and their potential for translational approaches.

Keywords: colorectal cancer; immune cells; infection; inflammation; intestine; organoids.