Image_4_ATF3 Sustains IL-22-Induced STAT3 Phosphorylation to Maintain Mucosal Immunity Through Inhibiting Phosphatases.JPEG

In gut epithelium, IL-22 transmits signals through STAT3 phosphorylation (pSTAT3) which provides intestinal immunity. Many components in the IL-22-pSTAT3 pathway have been identified as risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and some of them are considered as promising therapeutic targets. However, new perspectives are still needed to understand IL-22-pSTAT3 signaling for effective clinical interventions in IBD patients. Here, we revealed activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3), recently identified to be upregulated in patients with active IBD, as a crucial player in the epithelial IL-22-pSTAT3 signaling cascade. We found ATF3 is central to intestinal homeostasis and provides protection during colitis. Loss of ATF3 led to decreased crypt numbers, more shortened colon length, impaired ileal fucosylation at the steady state, and lethal disease activity during DSS-induced colitis which can be effectively ameliorated by rectal transplantation of wild-type colonic organoids. Epithelial stem cells and Paneth cells form a niche to orchestrate epithelial regeneration and host-microbe interactions, and IL-22-pSTAT3 signaling is a key guardian for this niche. We found ATF3 is critical for niche maintenance as ATF3 deficiency caused compromised stem cell growth and regeneration, as well as Paneth cell degeneration and loss of anti-microbial peptide (AMP)-producing granules, indicative of malfunction of Paneth/stem cell network. Mechanistically, we found IL-22 upregulates ATF3, which is required to relay IL-22 signaling leading to STAT3 phosphorylation and subsequent AMP induction. Intriguingly, ATF3 itself does not act on STAT3 directly, instead ATF3 regulates pSTAT3 by negatively targeting protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs) including SHP2 and PTP-Meg2. Furthermore, we identified ATF3 is also involved in IL-6-mediated STAT3 activation in T cells and loss of ATF3 leads to reduced capacity of Th17 cells to produce their signature cytokine IL-22 and IL-17A. Collectively, our results suggest that via IL-22-pSTAT3 signaling in the epithelium and IL-6-pSTAT3 signaling in Th17 cells, ATF3 mediates a cross-regulation in the barrier to maintain mucosal homeostasis and immunity.