The intestinal epithelium is one of the most rapidly proliferating organs in the body. A complete turnover of the epithelium occurs every 3-5 days in the mouse, a process that is maintained by a small population of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) that reside in the crypt bases. The signals that regulate the behavior of these ISCs are still unknown. This has been due, until recently, to the singular lack of definitive ISC markers. The recent identification of genes that mark functional stem cells has yielded insights into how ISCs are regulated and maintained by their surrounding niche. Herein, we examine the body of literature regarding the precise identity and location of the ISCs, the role of the surrounding niche in ISC maintenance and regulation, as well as the hypothesis that the ISCs are the cells of origin in colorectal cancer.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.