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Stem Cells. 1997;15(2):82-93.

Regulation and significance of apoptosis in the stem cells of the gastrointestinal epithelium.

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CRC Department of Epithelial Biology, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Christie Hospital NHS Trust, Withington, Manchester, United Kingdom.


In rapidly proliferating tissues the stringent control of cell proliferation and cell death by apoptosis is central to the maintenance of tissue homeostasis. In the gastrointestinal tract most work studying the control of tissue cell number has traditionally focused on the growth factor control of proliferation, and the changes that occur during carcinogenesis. However, in recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the control of apoptosis is also crucial. Apoptosis is an important mechanism for eliminating both excess normal cells and those cells which have sustained damage; therefore maintaining a tissue, i.e., stem cells with preserved DNA integrity. In this review the incidence of apoptosis in the stem cells of both the small and large intestine will be discussed in relation to the expression of a number of apoptosis regulating genes (e.g. p53, Bcl-2, bax) within these cells. The importance of apoptosis as a means of controlling stem cell number (and therefore cellular output) will be addressed, as will the mechanisms by which any alterations to this process may contribute to malignancy.

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