Unconjugated bilirubin (UCB), a product of heme oxidation, has known immunosuppressant properties but the molecular mechanisms, other than antioxidant effects, remain largely unexplored. We note that UCB modulates T helper type 17 (Th17) immune responses, in a manner dependent upon heightened expression of CD39 ectonucleotidase. UCB has protective effects in experimental colitis, where it enhances recovery after injury and preferentially boosts IL-10 production by colonic intraepithelial CD4+ cells. In vitro, UCB confers immunoregulatory properties on human control Th17 cells, as reflected by increased levels of FOXP3 and CD39 with heightened cellular suppressor ability. Upregulation of CD39 by Th17 cells is dependent upon ligation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) by UCB. Genetic deletion of CD39, as in
Maria Serena Longhi, Marta Vuerich, Alireza Kalbasi, Jessica E. Kenison, Ada Yeste, Eva Csizmadia, Byron Vaughn, Linda Feldbrugge, Shuji Mitsuhashi, Barbara Wegiel, Leo Otterbein, Alan Moss, Francisco J. Quintana, Simon C. Robson
UCB improves recovery after induction of DSS colitis.