The Contributions of Human Mini-Intestines to the Study of Intestinal Physiology and Pathophysiology

Annu Rev Physiol. 2017 Feb 10;79:291-312. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021115-105211.


The lack of accessibility to normal and diseased human intestine and the inability to separate the different functional compartments of the intestine even when tissue could be obtained have held back the understanding of human intestinal physiology. Clevers and his associates identified intestinal stem cells and established conditions to grow "mini-intestines" ex vivo in differentiated and undifferentiated conditions. This pioneering work has made a new model of the human intestine available and has begun making contributions to the understanding of human intestinal transport in normal physiologic conditions and the pathophysiology of intestinal diseases. However, this model is reductionist and lacks many of the complexities of normal intestine. Consequently, it is not yet possible to predict how great the advances using this model will be for understanding human physiology and pathophysiology, nor how the model will be modified to include multiple other intestinal cell types and physical forces necessary to more closely approximate normal intestine. This review describes recent studies using mini-intestines, which have readdressed previously established models of normal intestinal transport physiology and newly examined intestinal pathophysiology. The emphasis is on studies with human enteroids grown either as three-dimensional spheroids or two-dimensional monolayers. In addition, comments are provided on mouse studies in cases when human studies have not yet been described.

Keywords: enteroids; host pathogen; intestinal physiology; organoids; transport.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / pathology*
  • Intestines / pathology*
  • Intestines / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Stem Cells / pathology
  • Stem Cells / physiology