Ablation of LGR5+ intestinal stem cells (ISCs) is associated with rapid restoration of the ISC compartment. Different intestinal crypt populations dedifferentiate to provide new ISCs, but the transcriptional and signaling trajectories that guide this process are unclear, and a large body of work suggests that quiescent "reserve" ISCs contribute to regeneration. By timing the interval between LGR5+ lineage tracing and lethal injury, we show that ISC regeneration is explained nearly completely by dedifferentiation, with contributions from absorptive and secretory progenitors. The ISC-restricted transcription factor ASCL2 confers measurable competitive advantage to resting ISCs and is essential to restore the ISC compartment. Regenerating cells re-express Ascl2 days before Lgr5, and single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) analyses reveal transcriptional paths underlying dedifferentiation. ASCL2 target genes include the interleukin-11 (IL-11) receptor Il11ra1, and recombinant IL-11 enhances crypt cell regenerative potential. These findings reveal cell dedifferentiation as the principal means for ISC restoration and highlight an ASCL2-regulated signal that enables this adaptive response.
Keywords: facultative stem cells; reserve stem cells; stem cell dedifferentiation.
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