Single cell transcriptomic profiling of large intestinal enteroendocrine cells in mice – Identification of selective stimuli for insulin-like peptide-5 and glucagon-like peptide-1 co-expressing cells

Lawrence J. Billing, Pierre Larraufie, Jo Lewis, Andrew Leiter, Joyce Li, Brian Lam, Giles SH. Yeo, Deborah A. Goldspink, Richard G. Kay, Fiona M. Gribble, Frank Reimann

Enteroendocrine cells (EECs) are gastrointestinal epithelial cells that produce more than twenty different hormones. The physiological role of the large number of EECs in the large intestine is not clear. Billing, Larraufie, et al. studied EECs of the large intestine using single cell RNA-sequencing. They identified different subpopulations and showed that these likely represent cellular gradients mapping along the proximal-distal and crypt-surface gut axes. Their data suggests that these cells can contribute to circulating gut hormone concentrations despite their distal location.

Objective: Enteroendocrine cells (EECs) of the large intestine, found scattered in the epithelial layer, are known to express different hormones, with at least partial co-expression of different hormones in the same cell. Here we aimed to categorize colonic EECs and to identify possible targets for selective recruitment of hormones.

Methods: Single cell RNA-sequencing of sorted enteroendocrine cells, using NeuroD1-Cre x Rosa26-EYFP mice, was used to cluster EECs from the colon and rectum according to their transcriptome. G-protein coupled receptors differentially expressed across clusters were identified, and, as a proof of principle, agonists of Agtr1a and Avpr1b were tested as candidate EEC secretagogues in vitro and in vivo.

Results: EECs from the large intestine separated into 7 clear clusters, 4 expressing higher levels of Tph1 (enzyme required for serotonin (5-HT) synthesis; enterochromaffin cells), 2 enriched for Gcg (encoding glucagon-like peptide-1, GLP-1, L-cells), and the 7th expressing somatostatin (D-cells). Restricted analysis of L-cells identified 4 L-cell sub-clusters, exhibiting differential expression of Gcg, Pyy (Peptide YY), Nts (neurotensin), Insl5 (insulin-like peptide 5), Cck (cholecystokinin), and Sct (secretin). Expression profiles of L- and enterochromaffin cells revealed the clustering to represent gradients along the crypt-surface (cell maturation) and proximal-distal gut axes. Distal colonic/rectal L-cells differentially expressed Agtr1a and the ligand angiotensin II was shown to selectively increase GLP-1 and PYY release in vitro and GLP-1 in vivo.

Conclusion: EECs in the large intestine exhibit differential expression gradients along the crypt-surface and proximal-distal axes. Distal L-cells can be differentially stimulated by targeting receptors such as Agtr1a.