Culture-Associated DNA Methylation Changes Impact on Cellular Function of Human Intestinal Organoids

Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022;14(6):1295-1310. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2022.08.008. Epub 2022 Aug 28.


Background & aims: Human intestinal epithelial organoids (IEOs) are a powerful tool to model major aspects of intestinal development, health, and diseases because patient-derived cultures retain many features found in vivo. A necessary aspect of the organoid model is the requirement to expand cultures in vitro through several rounds of passaging. This is of concern because the passaging of cells has been shown to affect cell morphology, ploidy, and function.

Methods: Here, we analyzed 173 human IEO lines derived from the small and large bowel and examined the effect of culture duration on DNA methylation (DNAm). Furthermore, we tested the potential impact of DNAm changes on gene expression and cellular function.

Results: Our analyses show a reproducible effect of culture duration on DNAm in a large discovery cohort as well as 2 publicly available validation cohorts generated in different laboratories. Although methylation changes were seen in only approximately 8% of tested cytosine-phosphate-guanine dinucleotides (CpGs) and global cellular function remained stable, a subset of methylation changes correlated with altered gene expression at baseline as well as in response to inflammatory cytokine exposure and withdrawal of Wnt agonists. Importantly, epigenetic changes were found to be enriched in genomic regions associated with colonic cancer and distant to the site of replication, indicating similarities to malignant transformation.

Conclusions: Our study shows distinct culture-associated epigenetic changes in mucosa-derived human IEOs, some of which appear to impact gene transcriptomic and cellular function. These findings highlight the need for future studies in this area and the importance of considering passage number as a potentially confounding factor.

Keywords: Culture Conditions; Epigenetics; Intestinal Epithelium; Organoid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa
  • Intestines
  • Organoids*