In the past decades, continuous effort has been paid to deeply understanding the pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. As the disease typically arises as chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal mucosa, research has been focused on how such an uncontrolled, deleterious immune response may arise and persist in a certain cohort of patients. Based on those immunologic analyses, the establishment of anti-TNF-α therapy, and the following series of biologic agents achieved great success and dramatically changed the therapeutic strategy of IBD patients. However, to guarantee long-term remission of the disease, the therapeutic standard has been raised to achieve "mucosal healing", which requires complete repair of the gastrointestinal mucosa. Recent studies have revealed the unexpected importance of epithelial cells in the pathophysiology of IBD. The general barrier function as well as the cell lineage-specific functions have been deeply attributed to the development of chronic intestinal inflammation. Also, the groundbreaking establishment of the in vitro intestinal stem cell culture system has opened up a way of developing stem cell transplantation therapy to treat otherwise refractory ulcers that may persist in IBD patients. In this review, we would like to focus on the role of epithelial cells in the pathophysiology of IBD, and also give a perspective to the upcoming development of regenerative therapies that may become one of the therapeutic choices to achieve mucosal healing in refractory patients of IBD.
Keywords: Goblet cells; Inflammatory bowel disease; Intestinal stem cells; Organoids; Paneth cells; Stem cell transplantation.