Chromatin Dynamics in Intestinal Epithelial Homeostasis: A Paradigm of Cell Fate Determination versus Cell Plasticity

Stem Cell Rev Rep. 2020 Dec;16(6):1062-1080. doi: 10.1007/s12015-020-10055-0. Epub 2020 Oct 13.


The rapid renewal of intestinal epithelium is mediated by a pool of stem cells, located at the bottom of crypts, giving rise to highly proliferative progenitor cells, which in turn differentiate during their migration along the villus. The equilibrium between renewal and differentiation is critical for establishment and maintenance of tissue homeostasis, and is regulated by signaling pathways (Wnt, Notch, Bmp…) and specific transcription factors (TCF4, CDX2…). Such regulation controls intestinal cell identities by modulating the cellular transcriptome. Recently, chromatin modification and dynamics have been identified as major actors linking signaling pathways and transcriptional regulation in the control of intestinal homeostasis. In this review, we synthesize the many facets of chromatin dynamics involved in controlling intestinal cell fate, such as stemness maintenance, progenitor identity, lineage choice and commitment, and terminal differentiation. In addition, we present recent data underlying the fundamental role of chromatin dynamics in intestinal cell plasticity. Indeed, this plasticity, which includes dedifferentiation processes or the response to environmental cues (like microbiota's presence or food ingestion), is central for the organ's physiology. Finally, we discuss the role of chromatin dynamics in the appearance and treatment of diseases caused by deficiencies in the aforementioned mechanisms, such as gastrointestinal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Chromatin remodeler; Differentiation; Epigenetics; Histone post-translational modification; Homeostasis; Intestinal epithelium; Lineage commitment; Response to environment; Stem cell proliferation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Cell Plasticity*
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*


  • Chromatin
  • Histones