Introduction: Although the role of Type I IFNs in initiating host defense against pathogens is well established, recent work highlights the regenerative function of this cytokine family. Yet, despite its involvement in tissue repair, the cellular targets and mechanisms of action by which Type I IFNs act during tissue regeneration are poorly understood.

Results: Here, we describe a hitherto unrecognized regenerative function for the RIG-I/MAVS/IFN-I pathway through direct effects on epithelial regeneration. Mice deficient in the RIG-I adaptor MAVS were more sensitive to intestinal barrier damage after total body irradiation (TBI) and, like RIG-I deficient mice, developed worse graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in a preclinical model for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT). This phenotype was not associated with changes in the intestinal microbiota, but with a defect in epithelial regeneration. Moreover, in contrast to previous reports in steady-state conditions and after viral challenge, we found that interferon-α/β receptor (IFNAR) signaling in non-hematopoietic epithelial cells was crucial for tissue regeneration after acute damage. Importantly, we could demonstrate that this pathway could be therapeutically targeted with RIG-I agonists, which promoted barrier integrity and prevented GVHD. Mechanistically, Type I IFNs (either RIG-I-induced or recombinant) could promote intestinal stem cell (ISC) growth in crypt organoid cultures, suggesting that stimulation of the ISC compartment led to epithelial regeneration.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that activation of RIG-I and IFN-I can promote regeneration of intestinal epithelial cells and thus offers an innovative therapeutic strategy for the management of acute intestinal injury.


van den Brink:Merck: Honoraria; Boehringer Ingelheim: Consultancy, Other: Advisory board attendee; Regeneron: Honoraria; Novartis: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Tobira Therapeutics: Other: Advisory board attendee.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.