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Exp Cell Res. 2011 Nov 15;317(19):2711-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2011.07.011. Epub 2011 Jul 23.

Boundaries, junctions and transitions in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Contiguous regions along the mammalian gastrointestinal tract, from the esophagus to the rectum, serve distinct digestive functions. Some organs, such as the esophagus and glandular stomach or the small bowel and colon, are separated by sharp boundaries. The duodenal, jejunal and ileal segments of the small intestine, by contrast, have imprecise borders. Because human esophageal and gastric cancers frequently arise in a background of tissue metaplasia and some intestinal disorders are confined to discrete regions, it is useful to appreciate the molecular and cellular basis of boundary formation and preservation. Here we review the anatomy and determinants of boundaries and transitions in the alimentary canal with respect to tissue morphology, gene expression, and, especially, transcriptional control of epithelial identity. We discuss the evidence for established and candidate molecular mechanisms of boundary formation, including the solitary and combinatorial actions of tissue-restricted transcription factors. Although the understanding remains sparse, genetic studies in mice do provide insights into dominant mechanisms and point the way for future investigation.

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