Blood polymorphonuclear neutrophils provide immune protection against pathogens, but may also promote tissue injury in inflammatory diseases. Although neutrophils are generally considered to be a relatively homogeneous population, evidence for heterogeneity is emerging. Under steady-state conditions, neutrophil heterogeneity may arise from ageing and replenishment by newly released neutrophils from the bone marrow. Aged neutrophils upregulate CXCR4, a receptor allowing their clearance in the bone marrow, with feedback inhibition of neutrophil production via the IL-17/G-CSF axis, and rhythmic modulation of the haematopoietic stem-cell niche. The aged subset also expresses low levels of L-selectin. Previous studies have suggested that in vitro-aged neutrophils exhibit impaired migration and reduced pro-inflammatory properties. Here, using in vivo ageing analyses in mice, we show that neutrophil pro-inflammatory activity correlates positively with their ageing whilst in circulation. Aged neutrophils represent an overly active subset exhibiting enhanced α M β 2 integrin activation and neutrophil extracellular trap formation under inflammatory conditions. Neutrophil ageing is driven by the microbiota via Toll-like receptor and myeloid differentiation factor 88-mediated signalling pathways. Depletion of the microbiota significantly reduces the number of circulating aged neutrophils and dramatically improves the pathogenesis and inflammation-related organ damage in models of sickle-cell disease or endotoxin-induced septic shock. These results identify a role for the microbiota in regulating a disease-promoting neutrophil subset.
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