Intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) comprise a diverse population of cells residing in the epithelium at the interface between the intestinal lumen and the sterile environment of the lamina propria. Because of this anatomical location, IEL are considered critical components of intestinal immune responses. Indeed, IEL are involved in many different immunological processes, ranging from pathogen control to tissue stability. However, despite their critical importance in mucosal immune responses, very little is known about the homeostasis of different IEL subpopulations. The phosphoprotein osteopontin is important for critical physiological processes, including cellular immune responses, such as survival of Th17 cells and homeostasis of NK cells among others. Because of its impact in the immune system, we investigated the role of osteopontin in the homeostasis of IEL. In this study, we report that mice deficient in the expression of osteopontin exhibit reduced numbers of the IEL subpopulations TCRγδ, TCRβCD4, TCRβCD4CD8α, and TCRβCD8αα cells in comparison with wild-type mice. For some IEL subpopulations, the decrease in cell numbers could be attributed to apoptosis and reduced cell division. Moreover, we show in vitro that exogenous osteopontin stimulates the survival of murine IEL subpopulations and unfractionated IEL derived from human intestines, an effect mediated by CD44, a known osteopontin receptor. We also show that iCD8α IEL but not TCRγδ IEL, TCRβ IEL, or intestinal epithelial cells, can promote survival of different IEL populations via osteopontin, indicating an important role for iCD8α cells in the homeostasis of IEL.
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