Infections by attaching and effacing (A/E) bacterial pathogens, such as Escherichia coli O157:H7, pose a serious threat to public health. Using a mouse A/E pathogen, Citrobacter rodentium, we show that interleukin-22 (IL-22) has a crucial role in the early phase of host defense against C. rodentium. Infection of IL-22 knockout mice results in increased intestinal epithelial damage, systemic bacterial burden and mortality. We also find that IL-23 is required for the early induction of IL-22 during C. rodentium infection, and adaptive immunity is not essential for the protective role of IL-22 in this model. Instead, IL-22 is required for the direct induction of the Reg family of antimicrobial proteins, including RegIIIbeta and RegIIIgamma, in colonic epithelial cells. Exogenous mouse or human RegIIIgamma substantially improves survival of IL-22 knockout mice after C. rodentium infection. Together, our data identify a new innate immune function for IL-22 in regulating early defense mechanisms against A/E bacterial pathogens.
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