Use of collagen gel as an alternative extracellular matrix for the in vitro and in vivo growth of murine small intestinal epithelium

Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2013 Dec;19(12):961-9. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2012.0710. Epub 2013 May 10.


Methods for the in vitro culture of primary small intestinal epithelium have improved greatly in recent years. A critical barrier for the translation of this methodology to the patient's bedside is the ability to grow intestinal stem cells using a well-defined extracellular matrix. Current methods rely on the use of Matrigel(™), a proprietary basement membrane-enriched extracellular matrix gel produced in mice that is not approved for clinical use. We demonstrate for the first time the capacity to support the long-term in vitro growth of murine intestinal epithelium in monoculture, using type I collagen. We further demonstrate successful in vivo engraftment of enteroids co-cultured with intestinal subepithelial myofibroblasts in collagen gel. Small intestinal crypts were isolated from 6 to 10 week old transgenic enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP+) mice and suspended within either Matrigel or collagen gel; cultures were supported using previously reported media and growth factors. After 1 week, cultures were either lysed for DNA or RNA extraction or were implanted subcutaneously in syngeneic host mice. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was performed to determine expansion of the transgenic eGFP-DNA and to determine the mRNA gene expression profile. Immunohistochemistry was performed on in vitro cultures and recovered in vivo explants. Small intestinal crypts reliably expanded to form enteroids in either Matrigel or collagen in both mono- and co-cultures as confirmed by microscopy and eGFP-DNA qPCR quantification. Collagen-based cultures yielded a distinct morphology with smooth enteroids and epithelial monolayer growth at the gel surface; both enteroid and monolayer cells demonstrated reactivity to Cdx2, E-cadherin, CD10, Periodic Acid-Schiff, and lysozyme. Collagen-based enteroids were successfully subcultured in vitro, whereas pure monolayer epithelial sheets did not survive passaging. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction demonstrated evidence of Cdx2, villin 1, mucin 2, chromogranin A, lysozyme 1, and Lgr5 expression, suggesting a fully elaborated intestinal epithelium. Additionally, collagen-based enteroids co-cultured with myofibroblasts were successfully recovered after 5 weeks of in vivo implantation, with a preserved immunophenotype. These results indicate that collagen-based techniques have the capacity to eliminate the need for Matrigel in intestinal stem cell culture. This is a critical step towards producing neo-mucosa using good manufacturing practices for clinical applications in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Differentiation / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen / chemistry*
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry*
  • Gels / chemistry
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small / cytology*
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Gels
  • Collagen