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Cells Tissues Organs. 2001;168(4):246-51.

Morphology of isolated colonic crypts.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn 06520-8023, USA.


The traditional paradigm of colonic fluid and electrolyte transport includes a spatial separation of absorptive and secretory processes to surface and crypt cells, respectively. Recent studies of isolated microperfused colonic crypts revealed constitutive Na-dependent fluid absorption while secretion is regulated by one or more neurohumoral agonists. One obvious reason for the difference found in microdissected crypts is their separation from the lamina propria milieu. While it has been shown that isolated crypts are devoid of obvious lamina propria elements, including pericryptal fibroblasts, detailed morphologic information of the content of isolated crypts has been lacking. To characterize the morphology of the isolated crypt, we performed transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and immunofluorescence on microdissected and Ca2+ chelated crypts. Crypt cell type analysis was carried out separately on intact rat colon using light microscopy. TEM revealed a complete lack of either lamina propria cells or extracellular material in crypts isolated by either technique. TEM also revealed a subtle difference between the two isolation methods, with intact basal membranes in microdissected crypts but focal disruption of basal membranes in Ca2+- chelated crypts. Immunofluorescent stains for two basement membrane components (laminin and collagen type IV) revealed the presence of adherent basement membrane only on microdissected crypts; evidence that the plane of separation differs in these two preparations. Crypt cell type analysis on intact rat colon revealed an equal proportion of goblet cells in the right and left colon (approximately 50%) when measuring the middle 70% of the crypts - the area studied during crypt microperfusion. This morphologic analysis will increase our understanding of the observed physiology of isolated colonic crypts.

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