Proliferation and Differentiation of Gastric Mucous Neck and Chief Cells During Homeostasis and Injury-induced Metaplasia

Gastroenterology. 2020 Feb;158(3):598-609.e5. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.09.037. Epub 2019 Oct 5.


Background & aims: Adult zymogen-producing (zymogenic) chief cells (ZCs) in the mammalian gastric gland base are believed to arise from descending mucous neck cells, which arise from stem cells. Gastric injury, such as from Helicobacter pylori infection in patients with chronic atrophic gastritis, can cause metaplasia, characterized by gastric cell expression of markers of wound-healing; these cells are called spasmolytic polypeptide-expressing metaplasia (SPEM) cells. We investigated differentiation and proliferation patterns of neck cells, ZCs, and SPEM cells in mice.

Methods: C57BL/6 mice were given intraperitoneal injections of high-dose tamoxifen to induce SPEM or gavaged with H pylori (PMSS1) to induce chronic gastric injury. Mice were then given pulses of 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) in their drinking water, followed by chase periods without BrdU, or combined with intraperitoneal injections of 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine. We collected gastric tissues and performed immunofluorescence and immunohistochemical analyses to study gastric cell proliferation, differentiation, and turnover.

Results: After 8 weeks of continuous BrdU administration, fewer than 10% of homeostatic ZCs incorporated BrdU, whereas 88% of neck cells were labeled. In pulse-chase experiments, various chase periods decreased neck cell label but did not increase labeling of ZCs. When mice were given BrdU at the same time as tamoxifen, more than 90% of cells were labeled in all gastric lineages. After 3 months' recovery (no tamoxifen), ZCs became the predominant BrdU-labeled population, whereas other cells, including neck cells, were mostly negative. When we tracked the labeled cells in such mice over time, we observed that the proportion of BrdU-positive ZCs remained greater than 60% up to 11 months. In mice whose ZCs were the principal BrdU-positive population, acute injury by tamoxifen or chronic injury by H pylori infection resulted in SPEM cells becoming the principal BrdU-positive population. After withdrawal of tamoxifen, BrdU-positive ZCs reappeared.

Conclusions: We studied mice in homeostasis or with tamoxifen- or H pylori-induced SPEM. Our findings indicated that mucous neck cells do not contribute substantially to generation of ZCs during homeostasis and that ZCs maintain their own census, likely through infrequent self-replication. After metaplasia-inducing injury, ZCs can become SPEM cells, and then redifferentiate into ZCs on injury resolution.

Keywords: Lineage Tracking; Paligenosis; Plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bromodeoxyuridine
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Chief Cells, Gastric / pathology*
  • Chief Cells, Gastric / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Gastric Mucosa / pathology*
  • Helicobacter Infections / complications
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Homeostasis
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metaplasia / etiology
  • Metaplasia / metabolism
  • Metaplasia / pathology
  • Metaplasia / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Tamoxifen


  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • spasmolytic polypeptide
  • Tamoxifen
  • Bromodeoxyuridine