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Nature. 2017 Mar 16;543(7645):424-427. doi: 10.1038/nature21673. Epub 2017 Mar 8.

Interplay between metabolic identities in the intestinal crypt supports stem cell function.

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Molecular Cancer Research, Center Molecular Medicine, University Medical Center Utrecht, Heidelberglaan 100, 3584CG Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Pathology, Erasmus MC Cancer Institute, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Department of Genetics and Center for Molecular Medicine, Lundlaan 6, 3584 EA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The small intestinal epithelium self-renews every four or five days. Intestinal stem cells (Lgr5+ crypt base columnar cells (CBCs)) sustain this renewal and reside between terminally differentiated Paneth cells at the bottom of the intestinal crypt. Whereas the signalling requirements for maintaining stem cell function and crypt homeostasis have been well studied, little is known about how metabolism contributes to epithelial homeostasis. Here we show that freshly isolated Lgr5+ CBCs and Paneth cells from the mouse small intestine display different metabolic programs. Compared to Paneth cells, Lgr5+ CBCs display high mitochondrial activity. Inhibition of mitochondrial activity in Lgr5+ CBCs or inhibition of glycolysis in Paneth cells strongly affects stem cell function, as indicated by impaired organoid formation. In addition, Paneth cells support stem cell function by providing lactate to sustain the enhanced mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in the Lgr5+ CBCs. Mechanistically, we show that oxidative phosphorylation stimulates p38 MAPK activation by mitochondrial reactive oxygen species signalling, thereby establishing the mature crypt phenotype. Together, our results reveal a critical role for the metabolic identity of Lgr5+ CBCs and Paneth cells in supporting optimal stem cell function, and we identify mitochondria and reactive oxygen species signalling as a driving force of cellular differentiation.

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