The gastrointestinal tract is a continuous series of organs from the mouth to the esophagus, stomach, intestine and anus that allows digestion to occur. These organs are frequently associated with chronic stress and injury during life, subjecting these tissues to frequent regeneration and to the risk of developing disease-associated cancers. The possibility of generating human 3D culture systems, named organoids, that resemble histologically and functionally specific organs, has opened up potential applications in the analysis of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in epithelial wound healing and regenerative therapy. Here, we review how during normal development homeostasis takes place, and the role of the microenvironmental niche cells in the intestinal stem cell crypt as an example. Then, we introduce the notion of a perturbed niche during disease conditions affecting the esophageal-stomach junction and the colon, and describe the potential applications of organoid models in the analysis of human gastrointestinal disease mechanisms. Finally, we highlight the perspectives of organoid-based regenerative therapy to improve the repair of the epithelial barrier.
Keywords: disease-modeling; epithelial–mesenchymal crosstalk; gastrointestinal tract; homeostasis; inflammatory bowel diseases; metaplasia; niche; organoid.