Geneticists studying the cells of the human gut have found a gene that seems to be expressed exclusively in mouse adult stem cells of the small intestine and colon. What's more, this gene, called Gpr49/Lgr5, may also be a marker for stem cells and growing cancers in a host of other tissues.
The gut lining is one of the most rapidly regenerating tissues of the body, and is therefore expected to contain a population of adult stem cells to provide a replenishing source of cells. Researchers led by Hans Clevers report online in Nature that Gpr49/Lgr5 is expressed exclusively in cells in the gut-lining's 'crypts' - where cell regeneration is initiated - and not in the protruding structures called villi, through which the gut absorbs nutrients and where rates of cell death are high.
The researchers show that Gpr49/Lgr5 is found in stem cells of both the small intestine and the colon - the first time that colon stem cells have been identified and characterized. In addition, the gene is found in similarly restricted distributions within other tissues, suggesting that it may be a handy 'badge' for spotting adult stem cells throughout the body.
Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Laboratory, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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