Identification of epithelial label-retaining cells at the transition between the anal canal and the rectum in mice

Cell Cycle. 2010 Aug 1;9(15):3039-45. doi: 10.4161/cc.9.15.12437. Epub 2010 Aug 20.


In certain regions of the body, transition zones exist where stratified squamous epithelia directly abut against other types of epithelia. Certain transition zones are especially prone to tumorigenesis an example being the anorectal junction, although the reason for this is not known. One possibility is that the abrupt transition of the simple columnar epithelium of the colon to the stratified squamous epithelium of the proximal portion of the anal canal may contain a unique stem cell niche. We investigated whether the anorectal region contained cells with stem cell properties relative to the adjacent epithelium. We utilized a tetracycline-regulatable histone H2B-GFP transgenic mice model, previously used to identify hair follicle stem cells, to fluorescently label slow-cycling anal epithelial cells (e.g., prospective stem cells) in combination with a panel of putative stem cell markers. We identified a population of long-term GFP label-retaining cells concentrated at the junction between the anal canal and the rectum. These cells are BrdU-retaining cells and expressed the stem cell marker CD34. Moreover, tracking the fate of the anal label-retaining cells in vivo revealed that the slow-cycling cells only gave rise to progeny of the anal epithelium. In conclusion, we identified a unique population of cells at the anorectal junction which can be separated from the other basal anal epithelial cells based upon the expression of the stem cell marker CD34 and integrin alpha6, and thus represent a putative anal stem cell population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anal Canal / cytology*
  • Anal Canal / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Movement
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Epithelium / ultrastructure
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Rectum / cytology*
  • Rectum / ultrastructure
  • Staining and Labeling*
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Histones
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Bromodeoxyuridine