Nutrient sensing by absorptive and secretory progenies of small intestinal stem cells

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2017 Jun 1;312(6):G592-G605. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00416.2016. Epub 2017 Mar 23.


Nutrient sensing triggers responses by the gut-brain axis modulating hormone release, feeding behavior and metabolism that become dysregulated in metabolic syndrome and some cancers. Except for absorptive enterocytes and secretory enteroendocrine cells, the ability of many intestinal cell types to sense nutrients is still unknown; hence we hypothesized that progenitor stem cells (intestinal stem cells, ISC) possess nutrient sensing ability inherited by progenies during differentiation. We directed via modulators of Wnt and Notch signaling differentiation of precursor mouse intestinal crypts into specialized organoids each containing ISC, enterocyte, goblet, or Paneth cells at relative proportions much higher than in situ as determined by mRNA expression and immunocytochemistry of cell type biomarkers. We identified nutrient sensing cell type(s) by increased expression of fructolytic genes in response to a fructose challenge. Organoids comprised primarily of enterocytes, Paneth, or goblet, but not ISC, cells responded specifically to fructose without affecting nonfructolytic genes. Sensing was independent of Wnt and Notch modulators and of glucose concentrations in the medium but required fructose absorption and metabolism. More mature enterocyte- and goblet-enriched organoids exhibited stronger fructose responses. Remarkably, enterocyte organoids, upon forced dedifferentiation to reacquire ISC characteristics, exhibited a markedly extended lifespan and retained fructose sensing ability, mimicking responses of some dedifferentiated cancer cells. Using an innovative approach, we discovered that nutrient sensing is likely repressed in progenitor ISCs then irreversibly derepressed during specification into sensing-competent absorptive or secretory lineages, the surprising capacity of Paneth and goblet cells to detect fructose, and the important role of differentiation in modulating nutrient sensing.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Small intestinal stem cells differentiate into several cell types transiently populating the villi. We used specialized organoid cultures each comprised of a single cell type to demonstrate that 1) differentiation seems required for nutrient sensing, 2) secretory goblet and Paneth cells along with enterocytes sense fructose, suggesting that sensing is acquired after differentiation is triggered but before divergence between absorptive and secretory lineages, and 3) forcibly dedifferentiated enterocytes exhibit fructose sensing and lifespan extension.

Keywords: differentiation; enterocyte; intestine; nutrient sensing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Enterocytes / metabolism
  • Fructokinases / genetics
  • Fructokinases / metabolism
  • Fructose / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Genotype
  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative / genetics
  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative / metabolism
  • Glucose Transporter Type 5
  • Goblet Cells / metabolism
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / cytology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Secretions / metabolism*
  • Intestine, Small / cytology
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Organoids / metabolism
  • Paneth Cells / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Glucose Transport Proteins, Facilitative
  • Glucose Transporter Type 5
  • Slc2a5 protein, mouse
  • Fructose
  • Fructokinases
  • ketohexokinase