To fulfill the lifelong need to supply diverse epithelial cells, intestinal stem cells (ISCs) rely on executing accurate transcriptional programs. This review addresses the mechanisms that control those programs. Genes that define cell behaviors and identities are regulated principally through thousands of dispersed enhancers, each individually <1 kb long and positioned from a few to hundreds of kilobases away from transcription start sites, upstream or downstream from coding genes or within introns. Wnt, Notch, and other epithelial control signals feed into these cis-regulatory DNA elements, which are also common loci of polymorphisms and mutations that confer disease risk. Cell-specific gene activity requires promoters to interact with the correct combination of signal-responsive enhancers. We review the current state of knowledge in ISCs regarding active enhancers, the nucleosome modifications that may enable appropriate and hinder inappropriate enhancer-promoter contacts, and the roles of lineage-restricted transcription factors.
Keywords: differentiation; epigenetic control; stem cells; transcription factors; transcriptional regulation.