Interpreting heterogeneity in intestinal tuft cell structure and function

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Abstract

Intestinal tuft cells are a morphologically unique cell type, best characterized by striking microvilli that form an apical tuft. These cells represent approximately 0.5% of gut epithelial cells depending on location. While they are known to express chemosensory receptors, their function has remained unclear. Recently, numerous groups have revealed startling insights into intestinal tuft cell biology. Here, we review the latest developments in understanding this peculiar cell type’s structure and function. Recent advances in volumetric microscopy have begun to elucidate tuft cell ultrastructure with respect to its cellular neighbors. Moreover, single-cell approaches have revealed greater diversity in the tuft cell population than previously appreciated and uncovered novel markers to characterize this heterogeneity. Finally, advanced model systems have revealed tuft cells’ roles in mucosal healing and orchestrating type 2 immunity against eukaryotic infection. While much remains unknown about intestinal tuft cells, these critical advances have illuminated the physiological importance of these previously understudied cells and provided experimentally tractable tools to interrogate this rare cell population. Tuft cells act as luminal sensors, linking the luminal microbiome to the host immune system, which may make them a potent clinical target for modulating host response to a variety of acute or chronic immune-driven conditions.

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