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Keywords:

  • differentiation;
  • intestinal epithelial cells;
  • mesenchyme;
  • endoderm

Abstract During organogenesis, the intestinal tract progressively acquires a functional regionalization along the antero-posterior axis. Positional information needed for enterocytes has been studied, but the mechanisms that control Paneth and endocrine cell differentiation are poorly understood. We have used a model of endoderm/mesenchyme cross-associations to evaluate the respective roles of endoderm and mesenchyme in the cytodifferentiation of these epithelial cells. Heterotopic cross-associations comprising endoderm and mesenchyme from the presumptive proximal jejunum and colon were developed as xenografts in nude mice. Our results show that endoderm from the presumptive proximal jejunum when associated with colonic mesenchyme generate small intestinal enterocytes. Interestingly, no lysozyme-producing cells were generated. On the other hand, associations comprising colon endoderm and jejunal mesenchyme showed heterodifferentiation with typical small intestinal morphology with sucrase-isomaltase expression and Paneth cell differentiation. Heterotopic associations developed enteroendocrine cell patterns according to the normal fate of the endodermal moiety. As enteroendocrine cell commitment seems to occur before the other intestinal cell types, we cannot exclude a role of instructive signals from the mesenchyme on endocrine cell differentiation earlier in the development. These results identified a complex pattern of cell commitment, dependent of the differentiation type of the epithelial cell, on the regional origin of the endoderm and the associated mesenchyme.