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Auto-aggressive CXCR6+ CD8 T cells cause liver immune pathology in NASH

Michael Dudek, Dominik Pfister and others



Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a manifestation of systemic metabolic disease related to obesity, and causes liver disease and cancer.

The accumulation of metabolites leads to cell stress and inflammation in the liver, but mechanistic understandings of liver damage in NASH are incomplete.

Here, using a preclinical mouse model that displays key features of human NASH, we found an indispensable role for T cells in liver immunopathology.

We detected the hepatic accumulation of CD8 T cells with phenotypes that combined tissue residency (CXCR6) with effector (granzyme) and exhaustion (PD1) characteristics. Liver CXCR6+ CD8 T cells were characterized by low activity of the FOXO1 transcription factor, and were abundant in NASH mice and in patients with NASH.

Mechanistically, IL-15 induced FOXO1 downregulation and CXCR6 upregulation, which rendered liver-resident CXCR6+ CD8 T cells susceptible to metabolic stimuli.

CXCR6+ CD8 T cells from the livers of NASH mice or of patients with NASH had similar transcriptional signatures, and showed auto-aggressive killing of cells in an MHC-class-I-independent fashion after signalling through P2X7 purinergic receptors.

This killing by auto-aggressive CD8 T cells fundamentally differed from that by antigen-specific cells, which mechanistically distinguishes auto-aggressive and protective T cell immunity.


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