Hepatocyte nuclear factor 4alpha contributes to an intestinal epithelial phenotype in vitro and plays a partial role in mouse intestinal epithelium differentiation

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2009 Jul;297(1):G124-34. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.90690.2008. Epub 2009 Apr 23.


Hepatocyte nuclear factor 4alpha (HNF4alpha) is a regulator of hepatocyte and pancreatic transcription. Hnf4alpha deletion in the mouse is embryonically lethal with severe defects in visceral endoderm formation. It has been concluded in the past that the role of Hnf4alpha in the developing colon was much less important than in the liver. However, the precise role of Hnf4alpha in the homeostasis of the small intestinal epithelium remains unclear. Our aim was to evaluate the potential of Hnf4alpha to support an intestinal epithelial phenotype. First, Hnf4alpha potential to dictate this phenotype was assessed in nonintestinal cell lines in vitro. Forced expression of Hnf4alpha in fibroblasts showed an induction of features normally restricted to epithelial cells. Combinatory expression of Hnf4alpha with specific transcriptional regulators of the intestine resulted in the induction of intestinal epithelial genes in this context. Second, the importance of Hnf4alpha in maintaining the homeostasis of the intestinal epithelium was investigated in mice. Mice conditionally deficient for intestinal Hnf4alpha developed normally throughout adulthood with an epithelium displaying normal morphological and functional structures with minor alterations. Subtle but statistical differences were observed at the proliferation and the cytodifferentiation levels. Hnf4alpha mutant mice displayed an increase in the number of goblet and enteroendocrine cells compared with controls. Given the fundamental role of this transcription factor in other tissues, these findings dispute the crucial role for this regulator in the maintenance of intestinal epithelial cell function at a period of time that follows cytodifferentiation but may suggest a functional role in instructing cells to become specific to the intestinal epithelium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • CDX2 Transcription Factor
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Shape
  • Epithelial Cells / diagnostic imaging
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 / deficiency
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 / genetics
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 / metabolism*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Integrases / genetics
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microfilament Proteins / genetics
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Phenotype
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Ultrasonography


  • CDX2 Transcription Factor
  • Cdx2 protein, mouse
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor
  • Gata4 protein, mouse
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Hnf4a protein, mouse
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • villin
  • Cre recombinase
  • Integrases