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      Identification of Cinnabarinic Acid as a Novel Endogenous Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Ligand That Drives IL-22 Production

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          The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) binds to environmental toxicants including synthetic halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and is involved in a diverse array of biological processes. Recently, the AHR was shown to control host immunity by affecting the balance between inflammatory T cells that produce IL-17 (Th17) and IL-22 versus regulatory T cells (Treg) involved in tolerance. While environmental AHR ligands can mediate this effect, endogenous ligands are likely to be more relevant in host immune responses. We investigated downstream metabolites of tryptophan as potential AHR ligands because (1) tryptophan metabolites have been implicated in regulating the balance between Th17 and Treg cells and (2) many of the AHR ligands identified thus far are derivatives of tryptophan. We characterized the ability of tryptophan metabolites to bind and activate the AHR and to increase IL-22 production in human T cells. We report that the tryptophan metabolite, cinnabarinic acid (CA), is an AHR ligand that stimulates the differentiation of human and mouse T cells producing IL-22. We compare the IL-22-stimulating activity of CA to that of other tryptophan metabolites and define stimulation conditions that lead to CA production from immune cells. Our findings link tryptophan metabolism to AHR activation and define a novel endogenous AHR agonist with potentially broad biological functions.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Th22 cells represent a distinct human T cell subset involved in epidermal immunity and remodeling.

          Th subsets are defined according to their production of lineage-indicating cytokines and functions. In this study, we have identified a subset of human Th cells that infiltrates the epidermis in individuals with inflammatory skin disorders and is characterized by the secretion of IL-22 and TNF-alpha, but not IFN-gamma, IL-4, or IL-17. In analogy to the Th17 subset, cells with this cytokine profile have been named the Th22 subset. Th22 clones derived from patients with psoriasis were stable in culture and exhibited a transcriptome profile clearly separate from those of Th1, Th2, and Th17 cells; it included genes encoding proteins involved in tissue remodeling, such as FGFs, and chemokines involved in angiogenesis and fibrosis. Primary human keratinocytes exposed to Th22 supernatants expressed a transcriptome response profile that included genes involved in innate immune pathways and the induction and modulation of adaptive immunity. These proinflammatory Th22 responses were synergistically dependent on IL-22 and TNF-alpha. Furthermore, Th22 supernatants enhanced wound healing in an in vitro injury model, which was exclusively dependent on IL-22. In conclusion, the human Th22 subset may represent a separate T cell subset with a distinct identity with respect to gene expression and function, present within the epidermal layer in inflammatory skin diseases. Future strategies directed against the Th22 subset may be of value in chronic inflammatory skin disorders.
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            Inhibition of Allogeneic T Cell Proliferation by Indoleamine 2,3-Dioxygenase–expressing Dendritic Cells

            Indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), an enzyme involved in the catabolism of tryptophan, is expressed in certain cells and tissues, particularly in antigen-presenting cells of lymphoid organs and in the placenta. It was shown that IDO prevents rejection of the fetus during pregnancy, probably by inhibiting alloreactive T cells, and it was suggested that IDO-expression in antigen-presenting cells may control autoreactive immune responses. Degradation of tryptophan, an essential amino acid required for cell proliferation, was reported to be the mechanism of IDO-induced T cell suppression. Because we wanted to study the action of IDO-expressing dendritic cells (DCs) on allogeneic T cells, the human IDO gene was inserted into an adenoviral vector and expressed in DCs. Transgenic DCs decreased the concentration of tryptophan, increased the concentration of kynurenine, the main tryptophan metabolite, and suppressed allogeneic T cell proliferation in vitro. Kynurenine, 3-hydroxykynurenine, and 3-hydroxyanthranilic acid, but no other IDO-induced tryptophan metabolites, suppressed the T cell response, the suppressive effects being additive. T cells, once stopped in their proliferation, could not be restimulated. Inhibition of proliferation was likely due to T cell death because suppressive tryptophan catabolites exerted a cytotoxic action on CD3+ cells. This action preferentially affected activated T cells and increased gradually with exposure time. In addition to T cells, B and natural killer (NK) cells were also killed, whereas DCs were not affected. Our findings shed light on suppressive mechanisms mediated by DCs and provide an explanation for important biological processes in which IDO activity apparently is increased, such as protection of the fetus from rejection during pregnancy and possibly T cell death in HIV-infected patients.
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              Kynurenic acid is a potent endogenous aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligand that synergistically induces interleukin-6 in the presence of inflammatory signaling.

              Inflammatory signaling plays a key role in tumor progression, and the pleiotropic cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) is an important mediator of protumorigenic properties. Activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) with exogenous ligands coupled with inflammatory signals can lead to synergistic induction of IL6 expression in tumor cells. Whether there are endogenous AHR ligands that can mediate IL6 production remains to be established. The indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase pathway is a tryptophan oxidation pathway that is involved in controlling immune tolerance, which also aids in tumor escape. We screened the metabolites of this pathway for their ability to activate the AHR; results revealed that kynurenic acid (KA) is an efficient agonist for the human AHR. Structure-activity studies further indicate that the carboxylic acid group is required for significant agonist activity. KA is capable of inducing CYP1A1 messenger RNA levels in HepG2 cells and inducing CYP1A-mediated metabolism in primary human hepatocytes. In a human dioxin response element-driven stable reporter cell line, the EC(25) was observed to be 104nM, while in a mouse stable reporter cell line, the EC(25) was 10muM. AHR ligand competition binding assays revealed that KA is a ligand for the AHR. Treatment of MCF-7 cells with interleukin-1beta and a physiologically relevant concentration of KA (e.g., 100nM) leads to induction of IL6 expression that is largely dependent on AHR expression. Our findings have established that KA is a potent AHR endogenous ligand that can induce IL6 production and xenobiotic metabolism in cells at physiologically relevant concentrations.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                3 February 2014
                : 9
                : 2
                [1 ]Division of Experimental Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America
                [2 ]Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America
                [3 ]Drug Studies Unit, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America
                [4 ]Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [5 ]Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [6 ]Department of Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [7 ]Department of Microbiology and Immunology, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, United States of America
                University Hospital of Heidelberg, Germany
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: JEM has applied for a patent regarding Use of cinnabarinic acid as a modulator of immune responses in autoimmune disorders" (patent application number 13/579,893). This patent will not alter the authors' ability to share data and materials as required by PLOS ONE policies.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: MML JEM BK YH MEH DGF JS DS AES JMM. Performed the experiments: MML JEM AL CW GP MEH DGF JS. Analyzed the data: MML JEM MEH JS. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: MPP CW GP. Wrote the paper: MML JEM MEH JMM. Revising and editing manuscript: MML JEM BK AL YH MPP CW DGF JS DS AES MEH JMM GP.

                ¶ These authors also contributed equally to this work.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 15
                This work was supported in part by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants OD000329 and R01AI40312 (to JMM), R01ES006272 (to MEH), P42ES007381 (Superfund Research Program at Boston University to JS, DHS and MEH), R21CA134882 (to JS), NIH Training Grant T32 GM007175 (MML), and the Harvey V. Berneking Living Trust. BK is supported by Career Development Awards from the NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (DK083334) and the NASPGHAN Foundation. JEM is a recipient of the Human Frontiers Science Program Long-Term Fellowship (LT000231/2011-L). JMM is a recipient of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award Program, part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, through grant DPI OD00329. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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