BACKGROUND & AIMS - Intestinal epithelial stem cells that express Lgr5 and/or Bmi1 continuously replicate and generate differentiated cells throughout life. Previously, Paneth cells were suggested to constitute an epithelium-intrinsic niche that regulates the behavior of these stem cells. However, ablating Paneth cells has no effect on maintenance of functional stem cells. Here, we demonstrate definitively that a small subset of mesenchymal, subepithelial cells expressing the winged-helix transcription factor Foxl1 are a critical component of the intestinal stem cell niche.
METHODS - We genetically ablated Foxl1 mesenchymal cells in adult mice using two separate models by expressing either the human or simian diphtheria toxin receptor (DTR) under Foxl1 promoter control.
CONCLUSIONS - Killing Foxl1 cells by diphtheria toxin administration led to an abrupt cessation of proliferation of both epithelial stem- and transit-amplifying progenitor-cell populations that was associated with a loss of active Wnt signaling to the intestinal epithelium. Therefore, Foxl1-expressing mesenchymal cells constitute the fundamental niche for intestinal stem cells.