Stem-cell niche for 10 billion colon cells a day

June 6, 2018, University of Zurich
In a mouse with a functioning stem cell niche, the large intestine consists of numerous villi and crypts. Credit: Bahar Degirmenci, UZH

Researchers at the University of Zurich have discovered the identity of the stem-cell niche of the colon. The niche comprises special cells that activate the stem cells of the adjacent intestinal epithelium and are responsible for its continuous renewal. Without the activation signal, the epithelium perishes. If it's constantly activated, early stages of cancer develop. The discovery helps to improve our understanding of intestinal cancer and inflammation.

The human intestine constantly renews itself. Alone in the colon—the last 1.5 meters of the gastrointestinal tract—10 billion epithelial are replaced each day. The intestinal is the layer of cells that forms the lining of both the small and large intestine and is responsible for absorbing nutrients. The regeneration process is driven by that are found in small folds of the epithelium (crypts), where they are in contact with other cells that produce the signals needed to drive regeneration. The key activating signal that sustains the stem cells is called "Wnt".

Colon stem cells perish without signaling

A group of UZH researchers, including Konrad Basler from the Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, have now discovered the cells responsible for providing the activating signal to the stem cells. These so-called Gli1-positive cells surround the crypts in the epithelium and thereby form the stem-cell niche. The scientists performed studies in mice to demonstrate that these cells play an essential role in forming and repairing the intestinal epithelium. "If the Gli1-positive cells are eliminated or unable to secrete Wnt proteins, the activation signal is lost. Consequently the colon's stem cells as well as the epithelium will perish, and the organism dies," says Basler.

Long-term constant activation leads to colon cancer

Just how critical a well-balanced regulation of the intestinal epithelium is also becomes evident when stem cells are driven to constantly divide. If Wnt signaling is stimulated excessively, the stem cells divide in an uncontrolled manner. "Mice with mutations in the Wnt signaling pathways develop polyps, from which later develops," adds the molecular biologist. This is also the case for humans.

In a mouse without a functioning stem cell niche, the villi and crypts of the large intestine get lost. Credit: Bahar Degirmenci, UZH

Niche cells are also responsible for tissue repair

In further tests, the researchers examined the behavior of the cells in the stem-cell niche in response to inflammation of the colon. In this situation, many more are lost than in healthy animals. The need for new cells is therefore greater, since the tissue not only has to be maintained but also repaired. The researchers observed that the amount of Gli1-positive cells increased significantly in response to an inflamed colon. "The cells we've discovered are thus not only essential for healthy organisms, but are also essential when it comes to repairing a damaged ," says Basler. The discovery and description of the colon's stem-cell niche therefore has relevance for a whole string of intestinal diseases, from inflammation to .

Schematic representation of the large intestine with GLI1-positive cells in the stem cell niche (bottom, green). Credit: Bahar Degirmenci, UZH

Explore further: Unexpected findings prompt re-evaluation of how the intestine repairs itself

More information: Bahar Degirmenci et al, GLI1-expressing mesenchymal cells form the essential Wnt-secreting niche for colon stem cells, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0190-3

Related Stories

Unexpected findings prompt re-evaluation of how the intestine repairs itself

January 25, 2018
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco have gained new insights into how the small intestine, one of the fastest renewing tissues ...

Study could explain link between high-cholesterol diet and colon cancer

January 25, 2018
New UCLA research could help explain the link between a high-cholesterol diet and an elevated risk for colon cancer.

Recommended for you

3-D printed biomaterials for bone tissue engineering

August 13, 2018
When skeletal defects are unable to heal on their own, bone tissue engineering (BTE), a developing field in orthopedics can combine materials science, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine to facilitate bone repair. ...

Artificial intelligence platform screens for acute neurological illnesses

August 13, 2018
An artificial intelligence platform designed to identify a broad range of acute neurological illnesses, such as stroke, hemorrhage, and hydrocephalus, was shown to identify disease in CT scans in 1.2 seconds, faster than ...

Researchers create specialized delivery methods to help treat cancer, other disorders

August 13, 2018
More than 100 years ago, German Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich popularized the "magic bullet" concept—a method that clinicians might one day use to target invading microbes without harming other parts of the body. Although ...

Scientists identify why some kidney transplants don't work

August 13, 2018
Scientists have discovered a 'molecular signature' for the allostatic load – or 'wear and tear' of kidneys – which could help clinicians understand why some kidney transplants don't work as well as expected.

Tiny fruit flies unravelling the secrets to end of life

August 10, 2018
We are used to seeing them dive-bombing our glass of wine or hovering around the fruit bowl.

Scientists find that common dietary elements cure lethal infections, eliminating the need for antibiotics

August 9, 2018
Antibiotic use is driving an epidemic of antibiotic resistance, as more susceptible bacteria are killed but more resilient strains live on and multiply with abandon. But if antibiotics aren't the end-all solution for infectious ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JerryStachowicz
not rated yet Jun 07, 2018
I am writing this for all women that I like.
Reflection is the essence of good science. Simingely , as above, please consider constant rubbinga a tissue by a bra , suprisingly too much similar ,unstopable signaling, as a couse of your epidemic brests cancer. ( Why IT is most often "the upper rigth or mirroring it left upper quadrant? )

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.