The aryl-hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-activated transcription factor that buoys intestinal immune responses. AHR induces its own negative regulator, the AHR repressor (AHRR). Here, we show that AHRR is vital to sustaining intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs). AHRR deficiency reduced IEL representation in a cell-intrinsic fashion. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed an oxidative stress profile in Ahrr−/− IELs. AHRR deficiency unleashed AHR-induced expression of CYP1A1, a monooxygenase that generates reactive oxygen species, increasing redox imbalance, lipid peroxidation, and ferroptosis in Ahrr−/− IELs. Dietary supplementation with selenium or vitamin E to restore redox homeostasis rescued Ahrr−/− IELs. Loss of IELs in Ahrr−/− mice caused susceptibility to Clostridium difficile infection and dextran sodium-sulfate-induced colitis. Inflamed tissue of inflammatory bowel disease patients showed reduced Ahrr expression that may contribute to disease. We conclude that AHR signaling must be tightly regulated to prevent oxidative stress and ferroptosis of IELs and to preserve intestinal immune responses.
- mucosal immunity
- oxidative stress