scRNA-Seq Reveals New Enteric Nervous System Roles for GDNF, NRTN, and TBX3

Christina M. Wright, Sabine Schneider, Kristen M. Smith-Edwards, Fernanda Mafra, Anita J.L. Leembruggen, Michael V. Gonzalez, Deepika R. Kothakapa, Jessica B. Anderson, Beth A. Maguire, Tao Gao, Tricia A. Missall, Marthe J. Howard, Joel C. Bornstein, Brian M. Davis, Robert O. Heuckeroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Aims: Bowel function requires coordinated activity of diverse enteric neuron subtypes. Our aim was to define gene expression in these neuron subtypes to facilitate development of novel therapeutic approaches to treat devastating enteric neuropathies, and to learn more about enteric nervous system function. Methods: To identify subtype–specific genes, we performed single-nucleus RNA-seq on adult mouse and human colon myenteric plexus, and single-cell RNA-seq on E17.5 mouse ENS cells from whole bowel. We used immunohistochemistry, select mutant mice, and calcium imaging to validate and extend results. Results: RNA-seq on 635 adult mouse colon myenteric neurons and 707 E17.5 neurons from whole bowel defined seven adult neuron subtypes, eight E17.5 neuron subtypes and hundreds of differentially expressed genes. Manually dissected human colon myenteric plexus yielded RNA-seq data from 48 neurons, 3798 glia, 5568 smooth muscle, 377 interstitial cells of Cajal, and 2153 macrophages. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated differential expression for BNC2, PBX3, SATB1, RBFOX1, TBX2, and TBX3 in enteric neuron subtypes. Conditional Tbx3 loss reduced NOS1-expressing myenteric neurons. Differential Gfra1 and Gfra2 expression coupled with calcium imaging revealed that GDNF and neurturin acutely and differentially regulate activity of ∼50% of myenteric neurons with distinct effects on smooth muscle contractions. Conclusion: Single cell analyses defined genes differentially expressed in myenteric neuron subtypes and new roles for TBX3, GDNF and NRTN. These data facilitate molecular diagnostic studies and novel therapeutics for bowel motility disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1548-1592.e1
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Calcium Imaging
  • Human and Mouse Colon
  • Pou3f3 (Brn1)
  • Transcription Factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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