Endogenous retroviruses promote homeostatic and inflammatory responses to the microbiota

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The microbiota plays a fundamental role in regulating host immunity. However, the processes involved in the initiation and regulation of immunity to the microbiota remain largely unknown. Here, we show that the skin microbiota promotes the discrete expression of defined endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). Keratinocyte-intrinsic responses to ERVs depended on cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS)/stimulator of interferon genes protein (STING) signaling and promoted the induction of commensal-specific T cells. Inhibition of ERV reverse transcription significantly impacted these responses, resulting in impaired immunity to the microbiota and its associated tissue repair function. Conversely, a lipid-enriched diet primed the skin for heightened ERV- expression in response to commensal colonization, leading to increased immune responses and tissue inflammation. Together, our results support the idea that the host may have co-opted its endogenous virome as a means to communicate with the exogenous microbiota, resulting in a multi-kingdom dialog that controls both tissue homeostasis and inflammation.

Journal details

Journal Cell
Volume 184
Issue number 14
Pages 3794-3811.e19
Available online
Publication date

Crick authors

Crick First author
Crick Corresponding author