Defining the AHR-regulated transcriptome in NK cells reveals gene expression programs relevant to development and function

Prashant Trikha, Jena E. Moseman, Aarohi Thakkar, Amanda R. Campbell, Ezgi Elmas, Jennifer A. Foltz, Nitin Chakravarti, James R. Fitch, Elaine R. Mardis, Dean A. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-activated transcription factor that regulates cellular processes in cancer and immunity, including innate immune cell development and effector function. However, the transcriptional repertoire through which AHR mediates these effects remains largely unexplored. To elucidate the transcriptional elements directly regulated by AHR in natural killer (NK) cells, we performed RNA and chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing on NK cells exposed to AHR agonist or antagonist. We show that mature peripheral blood NK cells lack AHR, but its expression is induced by Stat3 during interleukin-21–driven activation and proliferation, coincident with increased NCAM1 (CD56) expression resulting in a CD56bright phenotype. Compared with control conditions, NK cells expanded in the presence of the AHR antagonist, StemRegenin-1, were unaffected in proliferation or cytotoxicity, had no increase in NCAM1 transcription, and maintained the CD56dim phenotype. However, it showed altered expression of 1004 genes including those strongly associated with signaling pathways. In contrast, NK cells expanded in the presence of the AHR agonist, kynurenine, showed decreased cytotoxicity and altered expression of 97 genes including those strongly associated with oxidative stress and cellular metabolism. By overlaying these differentially expressed genes with AHR chromatin binding, we identified 160 genes directly regulated by AHR, including hallmark AHR targets AHRR and CYP1B1 and known regulators of phenotype, development, metabolism, and function such as NCAM1, KIT, NQO1, and TXN. In summary, we define the AHR transcriptome in NK cells, propose a model of AHR and Stat3 coregulation, and identify potential pathways that may be targeted to overcome AHR-mediated immune suppression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4605-4618
Number of pages14
JournalBlood Advances
Volume5
Issue number22
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 23 2021

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