The gastrointestinal stem cell

Cell Prolif. 2004 Feb;37(1):35-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2184.2004.00299.x.


The longevity of adult stem cells, and their potential for vast tissue regeneration, makes them a focal point of current research and debate, with future aspirations for the use of stem cells in the treatment of a number of human pathological conditions. Due to the rapid rate of cell turnover in the gastrointestinal tract, the stem cells of this tissue are amongst the most assiduous in the body, although they remain unidentified to this day due to their immature, undifferentiated phenotype. However, our knowledge of the mechanisms regulating gastrointestinal stem cell function is evolving, with the identification of putative cellular markers and the elucidation of signalling pathways which regulate cell behaviour in the normal and neoplastic gastrointestinal tract. This review describes the fundamental properties of the gastrointestinal stem cell including: (i) their number, location and origins, (ii) their primary function of deriving gastrointestinal cell lineages and maintaining tissue homeostasis, (iii) the acquisition of gastrointestinal cell lineages from adult stem cells of extraneous tissues and the consequences of this in a therapeutic context, and (iv) the genetic and morphological phenomena surrounding neoplastic transformation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Digestive System / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Stem Cells / cytology*