A Methodological Approach to Tracing Cell Lineage in Human Epithelial Tissues


  • Author contributions: T.G.F., J.B., L.G.-G., G.E.: Collection and/or assembly of data; S.A.C.M.: Conception and design, collection and/or assembly of data manuscript writing; A.H.: Collection and/or assembly of data, manuscript writing; S.I.: Collection and/or assembly of data, three-dimensional modeling; N.M.W.D.: Data analysis and interpretation; P.J.T.: three-dimensional modeling and software design for construction of crypt maps; H.M.K., S.B., L.M., M.E.: Provision of study material or patients; D.M.T., R.W.T., L.C.G., P.F.C., C.P.D.: Data analysis and interpretation; N.A.W., M.R.A.: Conception and design, data analysis and interpretation, manuscript writing. T.G.F., S.A.C.M., and J.B. contributed to this work as joint first authors.

  • First published online in STEM CELLS Express March 19, 2009


Methods for lineage tracing of stem cell progeny in human tissues are currently not available. We describe a technique for detecting the expansion of a single cell's progeny that contain clonal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations affecting the expression of mtDNA-encoded cytochrome c oxidase (COX). Because such mutations take up to 40 years to become phenotypically apparent, we believe these clonal patches originate in stem cells. Dual-color enzyme histochemistry was used to identify COX-deficient cells, and mutations were confirmed by microdissection of single cells with polymerase chain reaction sequencing of the entire mtDNA genome. These techniques have been applied to human intestine, liver, pancreas, and skin. Our results suggest that the stem cell niche is located at the base of colonic crypts and above the Paneth cell region in the small intestine, in accord with dynamic cell kinetic studies in animals. In the pancreas, exocrine tissue progenitors appeared to be located in or close to interlobular ducts, and, in the liver, we propose that stem cells are located in the periportal region. In the skin, the origin of a basal cell carcinoma appeared to be from the outer root sheath of the hair follicle. We propose that this is a general method for detecting clonal cell populations from which the location of the niche can be inferred, also affording the generation of cell fate maps, all in human tissues. In addition, the technique allows analysis of the origin of human tumors from specific tissue sites. STEM CELLS 2009;27:1410–1420