SCIENCE CHINA Life Sciences, Volume 61 , Issue 10 : 1205-1211(2018) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-018-9331-y

The intestinal epithelial response to damage

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  • ReceivedMar 29, 2018
  • AcceptedJun 1, 2018
  • PublishedSep 4, 2018


The constant renewal of the intestinal epithelium is fueled by intestinal stem cells (ISCs) lying at the base of crypts, and these ISCs continuously give rise to transit-amplifying progenitor cells during homeostasis. Upon injury and loss of ISCs, the epithelium has the ability to regenerate by the dedifferentiation of progenitor cells that then regain stemness and repopulate the pool of ISCs. Epithelial cells receive cues from immune cells, mesenchymal cells and the microbiome to maintain homeostasis. This review focuses on the response of the epithelium to damage and the interplay between the different intestinal compartments.

Funded by

the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(RN3-06525)

the Fund for Scientific Research-FNRS

Wallonie-Brussels International(WBI)

Fonds Erasme.


We thank David Castillo Azofeifa, Tomas Wald, Kara McKinley, Rachel Zwick and Adriane Joo for reviewing and editing the manuscript and help with figure designs. This work was supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (RN3-06525), Fonds De La Recherche Scientifique-FNRS, Wallonie-Brussels International (WBI) and Fonds Erasme.

Interest statement

The author(s) declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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  • Figure 1

    Stem cell-fueled renewal of the intestinal epithelium. The intestinal epithelium is composed of two compartments, namely crypts and villi. The crypts harbor ISCs intermingled between Paneth cells at their base. ISCs divide each day to give rise to secretory and absorptive progenitor cells, also known as TA cells. While moving up along the crypt-villus axis, the TA differentiate into the various epithelial cells composing the villi. Homeostasis of the intestinal epithelium is maintained through the interplay between epithelial cells, immune cells, cytokine signaling and the microbiota.

  • Figure 2

    Stem cell ablation and lineage tracing point to plasticity in the intestinal epithelium. Cre-mediated recombination in progenitor cells (secretory or absorptive) is indicated by gradient blue in the labeled cells. After ablation of Lgr5+ cells, progenitor cells dedifferentiate and replenish the pool of stem cells. These cells give rise to all types of differentiated epithelial cells, as indicated by the ribbon of labeled cells going up the crypt-villus axis.

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