Parallel patterns of cell-specific gene expression during enterocyte differentiation and maturation in the small intestine of the rabbit



Enterocytes are the major epithelial cell type of the small intestine. Their capacity to secrete, absorb and digest specific ions and nutrients is dependent on their position along the length of the small intestine as well as their stage of development as they migrate and differentiate along the crypt-villus axis. In order to further understand the molecular processes that regulate enterocyte differentiation and function, this study has compared the levels of six mRNA species produced by genes expressed in rabbit enterocytes; specifically, the multidrug resistance (MDR1) gene encoding the 170-kDa P-glycoprotein, CaBP 9k, which encodes a putative intracellular calcium buffer, calbindin, LPH, APN, and AP which encode the brush-border hydrolases lactase-phlorizin hydrolase, aminopeptidase N and alkaline phosphatase, respectively, and SGLT1, encoding the brush border Na+-glucose cotransporter. The level of each mRNA species has been mapped along the small intestine using quantitative in situ hybridisation. This has revealed characteristic regional variations in the abundance of each of the mRNAs, supporting the opinion that there is a strong genetic component to the maintenance of gradients in epithelial function along the length of the small intestine. Analysis of the cellular accumulation of mRNA during enterocyte migration along the crypt-villus axis, over gut-associated lymphoid tissue, and at epithelial boundaries, has, by contrast, established a clear correlation in the expression of these genes. These data illustrate the dynamics of enterocyte gene expression, thereby providing an insight into the molecular mechanisms which co-ordinate the events of cell transformation that underlie functional differences between the epithelial populations of the small intestine.