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In the small intestine, a cellular niche of diverse accessory cell types supports the rapid generation of mature epithelial cell types through self renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of intestinal stem cells (ISCs). However, not much is known about interactions between immune cells and ISCs, and it is unclear if and how immune cell dynamics affect eventual ISC fate or the balance between self-renewal and differentiation. Here, we used single cell RNAseq (scRNASeq) of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) to identify new mechanisms for ISC and immune cell interactions. Surprisingly, MHC class II (MHCII) is enriched in two distinct subsets of Lgr5+ crypt base columnar ISCs, which are also distinguished by higher proliferation rates. Using co culture of T cells with intestinal organoids, cytokine stimulations, and in vivo mouse models, we confirm that CD4+ T helper (Th) cells communicate with ISCs and affect their differentiation, in a manner specific to the Th subtypes and their signature cytokines and dependent on MHCII expression by ISCs. Specific inducible knockout of MHCII in intestinal epithelial cells in mice in vivo results in expansion of the ISC pool. Mice lacking T cells have expanded ISC pools, whereas specific depletion of Treg cells in vivo results in substantial reduction of ISC numbers. Our findings show that interactions between Th cells and ISCs mediated via MHCII expressed in intestinal epithelial stem cells help orchestrate tissue-wide responses to external signals.

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