American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
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There are two major stem cell populations in the intestinal crypt region that express either Bmi1 or Lgr5; however, it has been shown that other populations in the crypt can regain stemness. In this study, we demonstrate that the transcription factor NK2 homeobox 2 (Nkx2.2) is expressed in enteroendocrine cells located in the villus and crypt of the intestinal epithelium and is coexpressed with the stem cell markers Bmi1 and Lgr5 in a subset of crypt cells. To determine whether Nkx2.2-expressing enteroendocrine cells display cellular plasticity and stem cell potential, we performed genetic lineage tracing of the Nkx2.2-expressing population using Nkx2.2Cre/;R26RTomato mice. These studies demonstrated that Nkx2.2+ cells are able to give rise to all intestinal epithelial cell types in basal conditions. The proliferative capacity of Nkx2.2-expressing cells was also demonstrated in vitro using crypt organoid cultures. Injuring the intestine with irradiation, systemic inflammation, and colitis did not enhance the lineage potential of Nkx2.2-expressing cells. These findings demonstrate that a rare mature enteroendocrine cell subpopulation that is demarcated by Nkx2.2 expression display stem cell properties during normal intestinal epithelial homeostasis, but is not easily activated upon injury.