Neuronal programming by microbiota regulates intestinal physiology

Yuuki Obata*, Alvaro Castano, Stefan Boeing, Ana Carina Bon-Frauches, Candice Fung, Todd Fallesen, Mercedes Gomez De Aguero, Bahtiyar Yilmaz, Rita Lopes, Almaz Huseynova, Stuart Horswell, Muralidhara Rao Maradana, Werend Boesmans, Pieter Vanden Berghe, Andrew J. Murray, Brigitta Stockinger, Andrew J. Macpherson, Vassilis Pachnis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

149 Citations (Web of Science)


Neural control of the function of visceral organs is essential for homeostasis and health. Intestinal peristalsis is critical for digestive physiology and host defence, and is often dysregulated in gastrointestinal disorders(1). Luminal factors, such as diet and microbiota, regulate neurogenic programs of gut motility(2-5), but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Here we show that the transcription factor aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) functions as a biosensor in intestinal neural circuits, linking their functional output to the microbial environment of the gut lumen. Using nuclear RNA sequencing of mouse enteric neurons that represent distinct intestinal segments and microbiota states, we demonstrate that the intrinsic neural networks of the colon exhibit unique transcriptional profiles that are controlled by the combined effects of host genetic programs and microbial colonization. Microbiota-induced expression of AHR in neurons of the distal gastrointestinal tract enables these neurons to respond to the luminal environment and to induce expression of neuron-specific effector mechanisms. Neuron-specific deletion of Ahr, or constitutive overexpression of its negative feedback regulator CYP1A1, results in reduced peristaltic activity of the colon, similar to that observed in microbiota-depleted mice. Finally, expression of Ahr in the enteric neurons of mice treated with antibiotics partially restores intestinal motility. Together, our experiments identify AHR signalling in enteric neurons as a regulatory node that integrates the luminal environment with the physiological output of intestinal neural circuits to maintain gut homeostasis and health.

In a mouse model, aryl hydrocarbon receptor signalling in enteric neurons is revealed as a mechanism that helps to maintain gut homeostasis by integrating the luminal environment with the physiology of intestinal neural circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-289
Number of pages18
Issue number7794
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020



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