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SOX9 elongates cell cycle phases and biases fate decisions in human intestinal stem cells

Burclaff JR, Bliton RJ, Breau KA, Cotton MJ, Hinesley CM, Ok MT, Sweet CW, Zheng A, Bankaitis ED, Ariel P, Magness ST. 

BioRxiv; Nov; 2022 doi: PMID: TBD

Burclaff_Sox9_cell cycle_edited.jpg


Background and Aims: The transcription factor SOX9 is expressed in many stem/progenitor cell populations and has biphasic correlations with proliferation rates across different biological systems. In murine intestinal crypts, distinct Sox9 levels mark three phenotypically different cell types, with lowest levels marking rapidly- dividing transit amplifying (TA) cells, intermediate levels marking intestinal stem cells (ISCs), and highest levels marking slowly-dividing label retaining secretory precursors. SOX9 expression levels and the impact of these levels on cell cycle and stem cell activity have not been characterized for humans. Methods: Monolayers of primary human ISCs isolated from healthy organ donors were engineered with stable SOX9-knockout (KO) and/or SOX9-overexpression (OE) genomic modifications to assess the impact of SOX9 levels on proliferative capacity by DNA content analysis, cell cycle phase length by live imaging for a PIP-FUCCI reporter, stem cell activity via organoid formation assays, and cell fate after ISC differentiation tracked via qPCR. Results: SOX9 was expressed at diverse levels in human intestinal crypt lineages in vivo, repressed proliferation in human ISC monolayers, and predominantly lengthened G1 by >40% with lesser lengthening of S and G2/M phases. Overexpression of SOX9 caused slower proliferation yet increased organoid forming efficiency. Higher SOX9 levels biased ISC differentiation towards tuft cell and follicle-associated epithelium fates while loss of SOX9 biased cells toward absorptive enterocyte, goblet cell, BEST4+ cell, and enteroendocrine cell fates. Conclusions: SOX9 is a master regulator of stem cell activity in human ISCs, lengthening the cell cycle, promoting stemness, and altering differentiation fate. Interestingly, differences are noted between species, highlighting the importance of analyzing regulatory mechanisms in primary healthy human cells. 

Quantitative classification of chromatin dynamics reveals regulators of intestinal stem cell differentiation

Raab JR, Tulasi DY, Wager KE, Morowitz JM, Magness ST, Gracz AD

Development. 2020 Jan 3;147(1). PMID: 31862843



Intestinal stem cell (ISC) plasticity is thought to be regulated by broadly permissive chromatin shared between ISCs and their progeny. Here, we have used a Sox9EGFP reporter to examine chromatin across ISC differentiation. We find that open chromatin regions (OCRs) can be defined as broadly permissive or dynamic in a locus-specific manner, with dynamic OCRs found primarily in loci consistent with distal enhancers. By integrating gene expression with chromatin accessibility at transcription factor (TF) motifs in the context of Sox9EGFP populations, we classify broadly permissive and dynamic chromatin relative to TF usage. These analyses identify known and potential regulators of ISC differentiation via association with dynamic changes in chromatin. Consistent with computational predictions, Id3-null mice exhibit increased numbers of cells expressing the ISC-specific biomarker OLFM4. Finally, we examine the relationship between gene expression and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) in Sox9EGFP populations, which reveals 5hmC enrichment in absorptive lineage-specific genes. Our data demonstrate that intestinal chromatin dynamics can be quantitatively defined in a locus-specific manner, identify novel potential regulators of ISC differentiation and provide a chromatin roadmap for further dissecting cis regulation of cell fate in the intestine.

Reserve Stem Cells in Intestinal Homeostasis and Injury

Bankaitis ED, Ha A, Kuo CJ, Magness ST.

Gastroenterology. 2018 Nov;155(5):1348-1361.  Epub 2018 Aug 15. Review. PMID: 30118745



Renewal of the intestinal epithelium occurs approximately every week and requires a careful balance between cell proliferation and differentiation to maintain proper lineage ratios and support absorptive, secretory, and barrier functions. We review models used to study the mechanisms by which intestinal stem cells (ISCs) fuel the rapid turnover of the epithelium during homeostasis and might support epithelial regeneration after injury. In anatomically defined zones of the crypt stem cell niche, phenotypically distinct active and reserve ISC populations are believed to support homeostatic epithelial renewal and injury-induced regeneration, respectively. However, other cell types previously thought to be committed to differentiated states might also have ISC activity and participate in regeneration. Efforts are underway to reconcile the proposed relatively strict hierarchical relationships between reserve and active ISC pools and their differentiated progeny; findings from models provide evidence for phenotypic plasticity that is common among many if not all crypt-resident intestinal epithelial cells. We discuss the challenges to consensus on ISC nomenclature, technical considerations, and limitations inherent to methodologies used to define reserve ISCs, and the need for standardized metrics to quantify and compare the relative contributions of different epithelial cell types to homeostatic turnover and post-injury regeneration. Increasing our understanding of the high-resolution genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that regulate reserve ISC function and cell plasticity will help refine these models and could affect approaches to promote tissue regeneration after intestinal injury.

Cftr Modulates Wnt/β-Catenin Signaling and Stem Cell Proliferation in Murine Intestine

Strubberg AM, Liu J, Walker NM, Stefanski CD, MacLeod RJ, Magness ST, Clarke LL

Cell Mol Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Dec 7;5(3):253-271. eCollection 2018 Mar. PMID: 29675451



BACKGROUND & AIMS: Cystic fibrosis (CF) patients and CF mouse models have increased risk for gastrointestinal tumors. CF mice show augmented intestinal proliferation of unknown etiology and an altered intestinal environment. We examined the role of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (Cftr) in Wnt/β-catenin signaling, stem cell proliferation, and its functional expression in the active intestinal stem cell (ISC) population. Dysregulation of intracellular pH (pHi) in CF ISCs was investigated for facilitation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling. METHODS: Crypt epithelia from wild-type (WT) and CF mice were compared ex vivo and in intestinal organoids (enteroids) for proliferation and Wnt/β-catenin signaling by standard assays. Cftr in ISCs was assessed by immunoblot of sorted Sox9 enhanced green fluorescent protein(EGFP) intestinal epithelia and pHi regulation by confocal microfluorimetry of leucine-rich G-protein-coupled receptor 5 ISCs. Plasma membrane association of the Wnt transducer Dishevelled 2 (Dvl2) was assessed by fluorescence imaging of live enteroids from WT and CF mice crossed with Dvl2-EGFP/ACTB-tdTomato,-EGFP)Luo/J (RosamT/mG) mice.RESULTS:  Relative to WT, CF intestinal crypts showed an ∼30% increase in epithelial and Lgr5+ ISC proliferation and increased Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Cftr was expressed in Sox9EGFPLo ISCs and loss of Cftr induced an alkaline pHi in ISCs. CF crypt-base columnar cells showed a generalized increase in plasma membrane Dvl2-EGFP association as compared with WT. Dvl2-EGFP membrane association was charge- and pH-dependent and increased in WT crypt-base columnar cells by Cftr inhibition.CONCLUSIONS: CF intestine shows increased ISC proliferation and Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Loss of Cftr increases pHi in ISCs, which stabilizes the plasma membrane association of the Wnt transducer Dvl, likely facilitating Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Absence of Cftr-dependent suppression of ISC proliferation in the CF intestine may contribute to increased risk for intestinal tumors.

SOX9 Maintains Reserve Stem Cells and Preserves Radio-resistance in Mouse Small Intestine.


Roche KC, Gracz AD, Liu XF, Newton V, Akiyama H, Magness ST

Gastroenterology. 2015 Nov;149(6):1553-1563. Epub 2015 Jul 11. PMID:26170137



BACKGROUND & AIMS: Reserve intestinal stem cells (rISCs) mediate epithelial regeneration following tissue damage. Unlike active intestinal stem cells (aISCs), rISCs slowly cycle under homeostatic conditions, allowing for their identification with label retention assays. In response to certain epithelial injuries, rISCs convert to an actively dividing state and demonstrate multipotency and self-renewal, which are defining properties of stem cells. Little is known about the genetic mechanisms that regulate the production and maintenance of rISCs. High expression levels of the transcription factor Sox9 (Sox9high) have been associated with rISCs. We investigated the role of SOX9 in maintaining rISCs. METHODS: We performed single-cell analyses to characterize the expression of active and reserve ISC markers in Lgr5high cells (aISC) and Sox9high cells (rISC) isolated from reporter mice by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. We used label-retention assays to determine the proliferative capacity of Sox9high cells. Lineage-tracing experiments were performed in Sox9-CreERT2 mice to measure the stem cell capacities and radio-resistance of Sox9-expressing cells. Conditional knockout (SOX9cKO) and inducible-conditional (SOX9iKO) knockout mice were used to determine whether SOX9 was required to maintain label-retaining cells (LRCs) and rISC function. RESULTS: Lgr5high and a subset of crypt-based Sox9high cells co-express markers of aISC and rISC (Lgr5, Bmi1, Lrig1, and Hopx). LRCs express high levels of Sox9 and are lost in SOX9-knockout mice. SOX9 is required for epithelial regeneration following high-dose irradiation. Crypts from SOX9-knockout mice have increased sensitivity to radiation, compared with control mice, which could not be attributed to impaired cell cycle arrest or DNA repair. CONCLUSIONS: Sox9 limits proliferation in LRCs and imparts radiation resistance to rISCs in mice.

IGF1 stimulates crypt expansion via differential activation of 2 intestinal stem cell populations

Van Landeghem L, Santoro MA, Mah AT, Krebs AE, Dehmer JJ, McNaughton KK, Helmrath MA, Magness ST, Lund PK

FASEB J. 2015 Jul;29(7):2828-42.  Epub 2016 Jun 16.   PMID:25837582



Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) has potent trophic effects on normal or injured intestinal epithelium, but specific effects on intestinal stem cells (ISCs) are undefined. We used Sox9-enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) reporter mice that permit analyses of both actively cycling ISCs (Sox9-EGFP(Low)) and reserve/facultative ISCs (Sox9-EGFP(High)) to study IGF1 action on ISCs in normal intestine or during crypt regeneration after high-dose radiation-induced injury. We hypothesized that IGF1 differentially regulates proliferation and gene expression in actively cycling and reserve/facultative ISCs. IGF1 was delivered for 5 days using subcutaneously implanted mini-pumps in uninjured mice or after 14 Gy abdominal radiation. ISC numbers, proliferation, and transcriptome were assessed. IGF1 increased epithelial growth in nonirradiated mice and enhanced crypt regeneration after radiation. In uninjured and regenerating intestines, IGF1 increased total numbers of Sox9-EGFP(Low) ISCs and percentage of these cells in M-phase. IGF1 increased percentages of Sox9-EGFP(High) ISCs in S-phase but did not expand this population. Microarray revealed that IGF1 activated distinct gene expression signatures in the 2 Sox9-EGFP ISC populations. In vitro IGF1 enhanced enteroid formation by Sox9-EGFP(High) facultative ISCs but not Sox9-EGFP(Low) actively cycling ISCs. Our data provide new evidence that IGF1 activates 2 ISC populations via distinct regulatory pathways to promote growth of normal intestinal epithelium and crypt regeneration after irradiation.

Impact of diet-induced obesity on intestinal stem cells: hyperproliferation but impaired intrinsic function that requires insulin/IGF1


Mah AT, Van Landeghem L, Gavin HE, Magness ST, Lund PK

Endocrinology. 2014 Sep;155(9):3302-14. Epub 2014 Jun 10. PMID: 24914941



It is well established that reduced nutrient intake decreases intestinal epithelial mass and crypt proliferation. Recent findings in model organisms and rodents indicate that these changes impact intestinal stem cells (ISC). In contrast, little is known about the impact of diet-induced obesity (DIO), a model of excess nutrient intake on ISC. We used a Sox9-EGFP reporter mouse to test the hypothesis that an adaptive response to DIO or associated hyperinsulinemia involves targeted expansion and hyperproliferation of ISC. The Sox9-EGFP reporter mouse allows study and isolation of ISC, and progenitors and differentiated lineages based on different Sox9-EGFP expression levels. Sox9-EGFP mice were fed high fat diet for 20 weeks to induce DIO and compared with littermate controls fed low fat rodent chow. Histology, fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) and mRNA analysis measured impact of DIO on jejunal crypt-villus morphometry, numbers and proliferation of different Sox9-EGFP cell populations and gene expression. An in vitro culture assay directly assessed functional capacity of isolated ISC. DIO mice exhibited significant increases in body weight and plasma glucose and insulin levels, indicative of reduced insulin sensitivity. DIO mice also displayed increases in circulating insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) and intestinal Igf1 mRNA. DIO mice had increased villus height and crypt density but decreased intestinal length. DIO resulted in a selective expansion of Sox9-EGFPLow ISC and numbers of ISC in S-phase, and ISC expansion correlated with plasma insulin levels. In vitro, ISCs isolated from DIO mice formed fewer enteroids in standard 3D Matrigel culture compared to controls,indicative of impaired ISC function. This decrease in enteroid formation in ISCs from DIO mice was rescued when insulin, IGF1 or both were added. We conclude that DIO induces specific increases in ISC and ISC hyperproliferation in vivo, but acquired dependence on insulin or IGF1 for intrinsic survival and growth.

Restriction of intestinal stem cell expansion and the regenerative response by YAP


Barry ER, Morikawa T, Butler BL, Shrestha K, de la Rosa R, Yan KS, Fuchs CS, Magness ST, Smits R, Ogino S, Kuo CJ, Camargo FD

Nature. 2013 Jan 3;493(7430):106-10. Epub 2012 Nov 25. PMID: 23178811



A remarkable feature of regenerative processes is their ability to halt proliferation once an organ's structure has been restored. The Wnt signalling pathway is the major driving force for homeostatic self-renewal and regeneration in the mammalian intestine. However, the mechanisms that counterbalance Wnt-driven proliferation are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate in mice and humans that yes-associated protein 1 (YAP; also known as YAP1)--a protein known for its powerful growth-inducing and oncogenic properties--has an unexpected growth-suppressive function, restricting Wnt signals during intestinal regeneration. Transgenic expression of YAP reduces Wnt target gene expression and results in the rapid loss of intestinal crypts. In addition, loss of YAP results in Wnt hypersensitivity during regeneration, leading to hyperplasia, expansion of intestinal stem cells and niche cells, and formation of ectopic crypts and microadenomas. We find that cytoplasmic YAP restricts elevated Wnt signalling independently of the AXIN-APC-GSK-3β complex partly by limiting the activity of dishevelled (DVL). DVL signals in the nucleus of intestinal stem cells, and its forced expression leads to enhanced Wnt signalling in crypts. YAP dampens Wnt signals by restricting DVL nuclear translocation during regenerative growth. Finally, we provide evidence that YAP is silenced in a subset of highly aggressive and undifferentiated human colorectal carcinomas, and that its expression can restrict the growth of colorectal carcinoma xenografts. Collectively, our work describes a novel mechanistic paradigm for how proliferative signals are counterbalanced in regenerating tissues. Additionally, our findings have important implications for the targeting of YAP in human malignancies.

Activation of two distinct Sox9-EGFP expressing intestinal stem cell populations during crypt regeneration after irradiation


Van Landeghem LM, Santoro A, Krebs A, Mah AT, Dehmer JJ, Gracz AD, Scull BP, McNaughton K, Magness ST Lund PK

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 May 15;302(10):G1111-32. Epub 2012 Feb 23. PMID: 22361729


Recent identification of intestinal epithelial stem cell (ISC) markers and development of ISC reporter mice permit visualization and isolation of regenerating ISCs after radiation to define their functional and molecular phenotypes. Previous studies in uninjured intestine of Sox9-EGFP reporter mice demonstrate that ISCs express low levels of Sox9-EGFP (Sox9-EGFP Low), whereas enteroendocrine cells (EEC) express high levels of Sox9-EGFP (Sox9-EGFP High). We hypothesized that Sox9-EGFP Low ISCs would expand after radiation, exhibit enhanced proliferative capacities, and adopt a distinct gene expression profile associated with rapid proliferation. Sox9-EGFP mice were given 14 Gy abdominal radiation and studied between days 3 and 9 postradiation. Radiation-induced changes in number, growth, and transcriptome of the different Sox9-EGFP cell populations were determined by histology, flow cytometry, in vitro culture assays, and microarray. Microarray confirmed that nonirradiated Sox9-EGFP Low cells are enriched for Lgr5 mRNA and mRNAs enriched in Lgr5-ISCs and identified additional putative ISC markers. Sox9-EGFP High cells were enriched for EEC markers, as well as Bmi1 and Hopx, which are putative markers of quiescent ISCs. Irradiation caused complete crypt loss, followed by expansion and hyperproliferation of Sox9-EGFP Low cells. From nonirradiated intestine, only Sox9-EGFP Low cells exhibited ISC characteristics of forming organoids in culture, whereas during regeneration both Sox9-EGFP Low and High cells formed organoids. Microarray demonstrated that regenerating Sox9-EGFP High cells exhibited transcriptomic changes linked to p53-signaling and ISC-like functions including DNA repair and reduced oxidative metabolism. These findings support a model in which Sox9-EGFP Low cells represent active ISCs, Sox9-EGFP High cells contain radiation-activatable cells with ISC characteristics, and both participate in crypt regeneration.

Mitochondrail DNA polymerase editing mutation, POLGD257A, disturbes stem-progenitor cell cycling in the small intestine and restricts excess fat absorption


Fox RG, Magness ST, Kujoth GC, Prolla TA, Maeda N

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 May 1;302(9):G914-24. Epub 2012 Feb 16. PMID: 22345551



Changes in intestinal absorption of nutrients are important aspects of the aging process. To address this issue, we investigated the impact of accelerated mitochondrial DNA mutations on the stem/progenitor cells in the crypts of Lieberkühn in mice homozygous for a mitochondrial DNA polymerase gamma mutation, Polg(D257A), that exhibit accelerated aging phenotype. As early as 3-7 mo of age, the small intestine was significantly enlarged in the PolgD257A mice. The crypts of the PolgD257A mice contained 20% more cells than those of their wild-type littermates and exhibited a 10-fold increase in cellular apoptosis primarily in the stem/progenitor cell zones. Actively dividing cells were proportionally increased, yet a significantly smaller proportion of cells was in the S phase of the cell cycle. Stem cell-derived organoids from PolgD257A mice failed to develop fully in culture and exhibited fewer crypt units, indicating an impact of the mutation on the intestinal epithelial stem/progenitor cell maintenance. In addition, epithelial cell migration along the crypt-villus axis was slowed and less organized, and the ATP content in the villi was significantly reduced. On a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, PolgD257A mice showed significantly restricted absorption of excess lipids accompanied by an increase in fecal steatocrits. We conclude that the PolgD257A mutation causes cell cycle dysregulation in the crypts leading to the age-associated changes in the morphology of the small intestine and contributes to the restricted absorption of dietary lipids.

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