Induction of apoptosis before shedding of human intestinal epithelial cells

Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Jun;97(6):1421-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2002.05787.x.


Objectives: Human intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) derive from stem cells at the crypt base and migrate along the so-called crypt-villus axis toward the intestinal lumen. As they reach the luminal surface in the colon or the villus tip in the small intestine, IECs are shed and their life cycle is terminated. The role of apoptosis during IEC migration along the crypt-villus axis has been subject to studies with conflicting results. In this study we use a novel approach to identify the initiation of apoptosis within normal human IECs.

Methods: Normal mucosa from the large and small human intestine was analyzed employing a novel antibody directed against activated caspase-3--an early marker of apoptosis.

Results: IECs initiate the apoptotic cascade as they approach the area of shedding before displaying evident morphological features of apoptosis. IECs of the small bowel also show caspase-3 activation in the small intestinal crypt base, whereas IECs of the colononic crypt base rarely show evidence of ongoing apoptosis.

Conclusions: These findings indicate that apoptosis is initiated in human IECs as they reach the luminal surface/villus tip and before shedding. Furthermore, they show that different sections of the intestinal tract vary significantly in the rate of IEC apoptosis, possibly reflecting their difference in susceptibility to epithelial cell neoplasia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Colon / cytology
  • Colon / enzymology
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology*
  • Intestine, Small / physiology


  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases