Stadhouders R, Li BWS, de Bruijn MJW, Gomez A, Rao TN, Fehling HJ, van IJcken WFJ, Lim AI, Di Santo JP, Graf T, Hendriks RW
BACKGROUND: Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) are major producers of the cytokines driving allergic asthma, and increased ILC2 numbers have been detected in blood and sputum of asthmatic patients. Asthma susceptibility has a strong genetic component, but the underlying mechanisms and whether asthma genetics affect ILC2 biology remain unclear. OBJECTIVE: We sought to study the ILC2 transcriptome and epigenome during airway inflammation (AI) to couple these to genes and genetic variants associated with asthma pathogenesis. METHODS: Mice harboring a reporter for the key ILC2 transcription factor GATA-3 were subjected to IL-33-driven AI, and ILC2s were isolated from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and mediastinal lymph nodes. Human ILC2s were purified from peripheral blood and activated in vitro. We used RNA sequencing, genome-wide identification of histone-3 lysine-4 dimethylation-marked chromatin, and computational approaches to study the ILC2 transcriptome and epigenome. RESULTS: Activated ILC2s in mice displayed a tissue-specific gene expression signature that emerged from remarkably similar epigenomes. We identified superenhancers implicated in controlling ILC2 identity and asthma-associated genes. More than 300 asthma-associated genetic polymorphisms identified in genome-wide association studies localized to H3K4Me2 gene regulatory elements in ILC2s. A refined set of candidate causal asthma-associated variants was uniquely enriched in ILC2, but not T2 cell, regulatory regions. CONCLUSIONS: ILC2s in AI use a flexible epigenome that couples adaptation to new microenvironments with functional plasticity. Importantly, we reveal strong correlations between gene regulatory mechanisms in ILC2s and the genetic basis of asthma, supporting a pathogenic role for ILC2s in patients with allergic asthma.