Published on Sat Nov 07 2020

A Cell Atlas of Microbe-Responsive Processes in the Zebrafish Intestine

Willms, R. J., Hocking, J. C., Foley, E.

Gut microbial products direct growth, differentiation and development in the animal host. Disruptions to host-microbe interactions have profound health consequences, that include onset of chronic inflammatory illnesses. We lack system-wide understanding of cell-specific responses to the microbiome.

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Abstract

Gut microbial products direct growth, differentiation and development in the animal host. Disruptions to host-microbe interactions have profound health consequences, that include onset of chronic inflammatory illnesses. However, we lack system-wide understanding of cell-specific responses to the microbiome. We profiled transcriptional activity in individual cells from the intestine, and associated tissue, of zebrafish larvae that we raised in the presence, or absence, of a microbiome. We uncovered extensive cellular heterogeneity in the conventional zebrafish intestinal epithelium, including previously undescribed cell types with known mammalian homologs. By comparing conventional to germ-free profiles, we mapped microbial impacts on transcriptional activity in each cell population. We revealed intricate degrees of cellular specificity in host responses to the microbiome, that included regulatory effects on patterning, metabolic and immune activity. For example, we showed that removal of microbes hindered transduction of vascular endothelial growth factor-dependent signals in the developing vasculature, resulting in impaired intestinal vascularization. Our work provides a high-resolution atlas of intestinal cellular composition in the developing fish gut and details the effects of the microbiome on each cell type.