Journal of cell science

Collagen IV synthesis is restricted to the enteroendocrine pathway during multilineage differentiation of human colorectal epithelial stem cells.

PMID 11493641


The human large intestine is lined by a rapidly renewing epithelial monolayer where cell loss is precisely balanced with cell production. The continuous supply of new cells is produced by undifferentiated multipotent stem cells via a coordinated program of proliferation and differentiation yielding three epithelial lineages: absorptive, goblet and enteroendocrine. Cell-matrix interactions have been suggested to be regulators of the multilineage differentiation program of the colorectal crypt but the expression of matrix proteins or their receptors does not appear to have the subtlety expected for this task. We have developed an in vitro model system of intestinal epithelial stem cells to facilitate the direct analysis of stem cells undergoing lineage commitment and differentiation. Using this culture system, we can now directly investigate the role of cell-matrix signalling in stem-cell decisions. In this study, collagen-IV synthesis has been followed in monolayers of multipotent cells that have been induced to differentiate into absorptive, goblet and enteroendocrine cells. Our experiments demonstrate that commitment to the enteroendocrine lineage is specifically accompanied by the expression of type-IV collagen that remains enteroendocrine-cell associated. Undifferentiated cells, absorptive cells and goblet cells do not express collagen IV. To confirm that the differential lineage-specific expression of collagen IV observed in the model system was representative of the in vivo situation, collagen-IV synthesis was analysed in isolated human colorectal crypts and tissue sections using immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridisation. These studies confirmed the in vitro findings, in that implementation of the enteroendocrine differentiation program involves synthesis and accumulation of a collagen-IV matrix. Thus, human colorectal enteroendocrine cells are unique in the colorectal crypt in that they assemble a cell-associated collagen-IV-rich matrix not observed on other colorectal epithelial cells. This study provides the first evidence for differential matrix synthesis between colorectal epithelial lineages in human colorectal epithelium. The specialised pericellular environment of the enteroendocrine cells might explain some of the unique phenotypic characteristics of this cell lineage. Furthermore, these findings suggest a potential mechanism whereby individual epithelial cells could modulate their cell-matrix signalling even while rapidly migrating in heterogeneous sheets over a shared basement membrane.

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