Background: Quiescent (slow-cycling) and active (rapid-cycling) stem cells are demonstrated in small intestines. We have identified significant expression of Smad2/3, phosphorylated at specific linker threonine residues (pSmad2/3L-Thr), in murine stomach, and suggested these cells are epithelial stem cells.
Aim: Here, we explore whether pSmad2/3L-Thr could serve as a biomarker for small intestine and colon stem cells.
Methods: We examined small intestines and colons from C57BL/6 mice and colons with dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis. We performed double-immunofluorescent staining of pSmad2/3L-Thr with Ki67, cytokeratin 8, chromogranin A, CDK4, DCAMKL1, and Musashi-1. Small intestines and colons from Lgr5-EGFP knock-in mice were examined by pSmad2/3L-Thr immunofluorescent staining. To examine BrdU label retention of pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-positive cells, we collected specimens after BrdU administration and observed double-immunofluorescent staining of pSmad2/3L-Thr with BrdU.
Results: In small intestines and colons, pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells were detected around crypt bases. Immunohistochemical co-localization of pSmad2/3L-Thr with Ki67 was not observed. pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells showed co-localization with cytokeratin 8, CDK4, and Musashi-1 and different localization from chromogranin A and DCAMKL1 immunostaining-positive cells. Under a light microscope, pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells were morphologically undifferentiated. In Lgr5-EGFP knock-in mice, some but not all pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells showed co-localization with Lgr5. pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells showed co-localization with BrdU at 5, 10, and 15 days after administration. In DSS-induced colitis, pSmad2/3L-Thr and Ki67 immunostaining-positive cells increased in the regeneration phase and decreased in the injury phase.
Conclusion: In murine small intestines and colons, we suggest pSmad2/3L-Thr immunostaining-strongly positive cells are epithelial stem-like cells just before reentry to the cell cycle.