Mathematical modelling identifies conditions for maintaining and escaping feedback control in the intestinal epithelium

Sci Rep. 2022 Apr 2;12(1):5569. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-09202-z.


The intestinal epithelium is one of the fastest renewing tissues in mammals. It shows a hierarchical organisation, where intestinal stem cells at the base of crypts give rise to rapidly dividing transit amplifying cells that in turn renew the pool of short-lived differentiated cells. Upon injury and stem-cell loss, cells can also de-differentiate. Tissue homeostasis requires a tightly regulated balance of differentiation and stem cell proliferation, and failure can lead to tissue extinction or to unbounded growth and cancerous lesions. Here, we present a two-compartment mathematical model of intestinal epithelium population dynamics that includes a known feedback inhibition of stem cell differentiation by differentiated cells. The model shows that feedback regulation stabilises the number of differentiated cells as these become invariant to changes in their apoptosis rate. Stability of the system is largely independent of feedback strength and shape, but specific thresholds exist which if bypassed cause unbounded growth. When dedifferentiation is added to the model, we find that the system can recover faster after certain external perturbations. However, dedifferentiation makes the system more prone to losing homeostasis. Taken together, our mathematical model shows how a feedback-controlled hierarchical tissue can maintain homeostasis and can be robust to many external perturbations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Feedback
  • Intestinal Mucosa*
  • Mammals
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Stem Cells*