Intestinal epithelial cells migrate from the base of the crypt to the villi where they are shed. However, little is known about the cell shedding process. We have studied the role of apoptosis and wound healing mechanisms in cell shedding from human small intestinal epithelium. A method preparing paraffin sections of human small intestine that preserves cell shedding was developed. A total of 14 417 villus sections were studied. The relationship of cell shedding to leukocytes (CD45), macrophages (CD68) and blood vessels (CD34) were studied by immunohistochemistry. Apoptotic cells were identified using the M30 antibody against cleaved cytokeratin 18 and an antibody against cleaved caspase-3. Potential wound healing mechanisms were studied using antibodies against Zona Occludens-1 (ZO-1) and phosphorylated myosin light chains (MLCs). We found that 5.3% of villus sections contained a shedding cell. An eosin-positive gap was often seen within the epithelial monolayer beneath shedding cells. Shedding was not associated with leukocytes, macrophages or blood vessels. Cells always underwent apoptosis during ejection from the monolayer. Apoptotic bodies were never seen in the monolayer but morphologically normal cells that were positive for M30 or cleaved caspase-3 were often seen. ZO-1 protein was usually (41/42) localized to the apical pole of cells neighboring a shedding event. Phosphorylated MLCs could be identified in 50% of shedding events. In conclusion, cell shedding is associated with apoptosis though it remains unclear whether apoptosis initiates shedding. It is also associated with phosphorylation of MLCs; a process associated previously with wound healing.