SJA Buczacki, HI Zecchini, AM Nicholson, R Russell, L Vermeulen, R Kemp, DJ Winton
The rapid cell turnover of the intestinal epithelium is achieved from small numbers of stem cells located in the base of glandular crypts. These stem cells have been variously described as rapidly cycling or quiescent. A functional arrangement of stem cells that reconciles both of these behaviours has so far been difficult to obtain. Alternative explanations for quiescent cells have been that they act as a parallel or reserve population that replace rapidly cycling stem cells periodically or after injury; their exact nature remains unknown. Here we show mouse intestinal quiescent cells to be precursors that are committed to mature into differentiated secretory cells of the Paneth and enteroendocrine lineage. However, crucially we find that after intestinal injury they are capable of extensive proliferation and can give rise to clones comprising the main epithelial cell types. Thus, quiescent cells can be recalled to the stem-cell state. These findings establish quiescent cells as an effective clonogenic reserve and provide a motivation for investigating their role in pathologies such as colorectal cancers and intestinal inflammation.