D Stamataki, M Holder, C Hodgetts, R Jeffery, E Nye, B Spencer-Dene, DJ Winton, J Lewis
The stem cells of the small intestine are multipotent: they give rise, via transit-amplifying cell divisions, to large numbers of columnar absorptive cells mixed with much smaller numbers of three different classes of secretory cells--mucus-secreting goblet cells, hormone-secreting enteroendocrine cells, and bactericide-secreting Paneth cells. Notch signaling is known to control commitment to a secretory fate, but why are the secretory cells such a small fraction of the population, and how does the diversity of secretory cell types arise? Using the mouse as our model organism, we find that secretory cells, and only secretory cells, pass through a phase of strong expression of the Notch ligand Delta1 (Dll1). Onset of this Dll1 expression coincides with a block to further cell division and is followed in much less than a cell cycle time by expression of Neurog3--a marker of enteroendocrine fate--or Gfi1--a marker of goblet or Paneth cell fate. By conditional knock-out of Dll1, we confirm that Delta-Notch signaling controls secretory commitment through lateral inhibition. We infer that cells stop dividing as they become committed to a secretory fate, while their neighbors continue dividing, explaining the final excess of absorptive over secretory cells. Our data rule out schemes in which cells first become committed to be secretory, and then diversify through subsequent cell divisions. A simple mathematical model shows how, instead, Notch signaling may simultaneously govern the commitment to be secretory and the choice between alternative modes of secretory differentiation.