Organoid culture has had a significant impact on in vitro studies of the intestinal epithelium; however, the exquisite architecture, luminal accessibility, and lineage compartmentalization found in vivo has not been recapitulated in the organoid systems. We have used a microengineered platform with suitable extracellular matrix contacts and stiffness to generate a self-renewing mouse colonic epithelium that replicates key architectural and physiological functions found in vivo, including a surface lined with polarized crypts. Chemical gradients applied to the basal-luminal axis compartmentalized the stem/progenitor cells and promoted appropriate lineage differentiation along the in vitro crypt axis so that the tissue possessed a crypt stem cell niche as well as a layer of differentiated cells covering the luminal surface. This new approach combining microengineered scaffolds, native chemical gradients, and biophysical cues to control primary epithelium ex vivo can serve as a highly functional and physiologically relevant in vitro tissue model.
Keywords: differentiation; gradient; intestinal epithelial stem cells; intestine-on-a-chip; microfabrication; tissue mimics.