The discovery of Lgr5+ intestinal stem cells (ISCs) triggered a breakthrough in the field of ISC research. Lgr5+ ISCs maintain the homeostasis of the intestinal epithelium in the steady state, while these cells are susceptible to epithelial damage induced by chemicals, pathogens, or irradiation. During the regeneration process of the intestinal epithelium, more quiescent +4 stem cells and short-lived transit-amplifying (TA) progenitor cells residing above Lgr5+ ISCs undergo dedifferentiation and act as stem-like cells. In addition, several recent reports have shown that a subset of terminally differentiated cells, including Paneth cells, tuft cells, or enteroendocrine cells, may also have some degree of plasticity in specific situations. The function of ISCs is maintained by the neighboring stem cell niches, which strictly regulate the key signal pathways in ISCs. In addition, various inflammatory cytokines play critical roles in intestinal regeneration and stem cell functions following epithelial injury. Here, we summarize the current understanding of ISCs and their niches, review recent findings regarding cellular plasticity and its regulatory mechanism, and discuss how inflammatory cytokines contribute to epithelial regeneration.
Keywords: Notch; Wnt; cytokines; dedifferentiation; intestinal stem cells (ISCs).