The Esophageal Organoid System Reveals Functional Interplay Between Notch and Cytokines in Reactive Epithelial Changes

Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Jan 3;5(3):333-352. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2017.12.013. eCollection 2018 Mar.


Background & aims: Aberrations in the esophageal proliferation-differentiation gradient are histologic hallmarks in eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and gastroesophageal reflux disease. A reliable protocol to grow 3-dimensional (3D) esophageal organoids is needed to study esophageal epithelial homeostasis under physiological and pathologic conditions.

Methods: We modified keratinocyte-serum free medium to grow 3D organoids from endoscopic esophageal biopsies, immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells, and murine esophagi. Morphologic and functional characterization of 3D organoids was performed following genetic and pharmacologic modifications or exposure to EoE-relevant cytokines. The Notch pathway was evaluated by transfection assays and by gene expression analyses in vitro and in biopsies.

Results: Both murine and human esophageal 3D organoids displayed an explicit proliferation-differentiation gradient. Notch inhibition accumulated undifferentiated basal keratinocytes with deregulated squamous cell differentiation in organoids. EoE patient-derived 3D organoids displayed normal epithelial structure ex vivo in the absence of the EoE inflammatory milieu. Stimulation of esophageal 3D organoids with EoE-relevant cytokines resulted in a phenocopy of Notch inhibition in organoid 3D structures with recapitulation of reactive epithelial changes in EoE biopsies, where Notch3 expression was significantly decreased in EoE compared with control subjects.

Conclusions: Esophageal 3D organoids serve as a novel platform to investigate regulatory mechanisms in squamous epithelial homeostasis in the context of EoE and other diseases. Notch-mediated squamous cell differentiation is suppressed by cytokines known to be involved in EoE, suggesting that this may contribute to epithelial phenotypes associated with disease. Genetic and pharmacologic manipulations establish proof of concept for the utility of organoids for future studies and personalized medicine in EoE and other esophageal diseases.

Keywords: 3D, 3-dimensional; BCH, basal cell hyperplasia; DAPI, 4′,6-Diamidino-2-Phenylindole, Dihydrochloride; DNMAML1, dominant negative MAML1; DOX, doxycycline; EGF, epidermal growth factor; EMT, epithelial-mesenchymal transition; EoE, eosinophilic esophagitis; Eosinophilic Esophagitis; GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease; GFP, green fluorescent protein; GSI, γ-secretase inhibitor; H&E, hematoxylin and eosin; IF, immunofluorescence; IHC, immunohistochemistry; IL, interleukin; IVL, Involucrin; KSFM, keratinocyte SFM; KSFMC, KSFM containing 0.6 mM Ca2+; Keratinocytes; MAML1, Mastermind-like protein1; OFR, organoid formation rate; Squamous Cell Differentiation; TNF-α, tumor necrosis factor-α; Three-Dimensional; Tslp, thymic stromal lymphopoietin; aDMEM/F12, advanced Dulbecco's Modified Eagle Medium: Nutrient Mixture F-12; qRT-PCR, quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction.