Asymmetric stem-cell divisions define the architecture of human oesophageal epithelium

Curr Biol. 2000 Nov 16;10(22):1447-50. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00803-4.


In spite of its clinical importance, little is known about the stem-cell compartment of the human oesophageal epithelium [1,2]. The epithelial basal layer consists of two distinct zones, one overlying the papillae of the supporting connective tissue (PBL) and the other covering the interpapillary zone (IBL) [3]. In examining the oesophageal basal layer, we found that proliferating cells were rare in the IBL and a high proportion of mitoses were asymmetrical, giving rise to one basal daughter and one suprabasal, differentiating daughter. In the PBL, mitoses were more frequent and predominantly symmetrical. The IBL was characterised by low expression of ?1 integrins and high expression of the beta2 laminin chain. By combining fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) with in vitro clonal analysis, we obtained evidence that the IBL is enriched for stem cells. A normal oesophageal epithelium with asymmetric divisions was reconstituted on denuded oesophageal connective tissue. In contrast, asymmetric divisions were not sustained on skin connective tissue, and the epithelium formed resembled epidermis. We propose that stem cells located in the IBL give rise to differentiating daughters through asymmetric divisions in response to cues from the underlying basement membrane. Until now, stem-cell fate in stratified squamous epithelia was believed to be achieved largely through populational asymmetry [4-6].

MeSH terms

  • Cell Division
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Esophagus / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Integrin beta1 / metabolism
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism
  • Mitosis / physiology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism


  • Integrin beta1
  • Ki-67 Antigen