Selective Interferon Responses of Intestinal Epithelial Cells Minimize Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha Cytotoxicity

Jacob A. van Winkle, David A. Constant, Lena Li, Timothy J. Nice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Interferon (IFN) family cytokines stimulate genes (interferon-stimulated genes [ISGs]) that are integral to antiviral host defense. Type I IFNs act systemically, whereas type III IFNs act preferentially at epithelial barriers. Among barrier cells, intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) are particularly dependent on type III IFN for the control and clearance of virus infection, but the physiological basis of this selective IFN response is not well understood. Here, we confirm that type III IFN treatment elicits robust and uniform ISG expression in neonatal mouse IECs and inhibits the replication of IEC-tropic rotavirus. In contrast, type I IFN elicits a marginal ISG response in neonatal mouse IECs and does not inhibit rotavirus replication. In vitro treatment of IEC organoids with type III IFN results in ISG expression that mirrors the in vivo type III IFN response. However, IEC organoids have increased expression of the type I IFN receptor relative to neonate IECs, and the response of IEC organoids to type I IFN is strikingly increased in magnitude and scope relative to type III IFN. The expanded type I IFN-specific response includes proapoptotic genes and potentiates toxicity triggered by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). The ISGs stimulated in common by type I and III IFNs have strong interferon-stimulated response element (ISRE) promoter motifs, whereas the expanded set of type I IFN-specific ISGs, including proapoptotic genes, have weak ISRE motifs. Thus, the preferential responsiveness of IECs to type III IFN in vivo enables selective ISG expression during infection that confers antiviral protection but minimizes disruption of intestinal homeostasis. IMPORTANCE Enteric viral infections are a major cause of gastroenteritis worldwide and have the potential to trigger or exacerbate intestinal inflammatory diseases. Prior studies have identified specialized innate immune responses that are active in the intestinal epithelium following viral infection, but our understanding of the benefits of such an epithelium-specific response is incomplete. Here, we show that the intestinal epithelial antiviral response is programmed to enable protection while minimizing epithelial cytotoxicity that can often accompany an inflammatory response. Our findings offer new insight into the benefits of a tailored innate immune response at the intestinal barrier and suggest how dysregulation of this response could promote inflammatory disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00603-20
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020


  • Apoptosis
  • Enteric viruses
  • Epithelial cells
  • Inflammation
  • Interferons
  • Intestinal immunity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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