In the face of mechanical, chemical, microbial, and immunologic pressure, intestinal homeostasis is maintained through balanced cellular turnover, proliferation, differentiation, and self-renewal. Here, we present evidence supporting the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in the adaptive reprogramming of small intestinal gene expression, leading to altered proliferation, lineage commitment, and remodeling of the cellular repertoire that comprises the intestinal epithelium to promote intestinal resilience. Ahr gene/protein expression and transcriptional activity exhibit marked proximalHI to distalLO and cryptHI to villiLO gradients. Genetic ablation of Ahr impairs commitment/differentiation of the secretory Paneth and goblet cell lineages and associated mucin production, restricts expression of secretory/enterocyte differentiation markers, and increases crypt-associated proliferation and villi-associated enterocyte luminal exfoliation. Ahr-/- mice display a decrease in intestinal barrier function. Ahr+/+ mice that maintain a diet devoid of AHR ligands intestinally phenocopy Ahr-/- mice. In contrast, Ahr+/+ mice exposed to AHR ligands reverse these phenotypes. Ligand-induced AHR transcriptional activity positively correlates with gene expression (Math1, Klf4, Tff3) associated with differentiation of the goblet cell secretory lineage. Math1 was identified as a direct target gene of AHR, a transcription factor critical to the development of goblet cells. These data suggest that dietary cues, relayed through the transcriptional activity of AHR, can reshape the cellular repertoire of the gastrointestinal tract.
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