Researchers define a new type of secretory cell in the intestine

March 7, 2011
Gerbe et al. define tuft cells as a new secretory lineage in the intestine. These rare cells can be distinguished from the four other main cell types of the intestinal epithelium by their co-expression of SOX9 (red) and COX1 (green). Microtubules are shown in white. Credit: François Gerbe

The intestinal epithelium consists of four main specialized cell lineages: absorptive enterocytes and three secretory cell types known as enteroendocrine, Paneth, and goblet cells. But a rare, fifth type of intestinal cell called tuft cells also exists. Defined by the thick brush of long microvilli that project from their apical surface, tuft cells are seen in several epithelial tissues, yet little is known about their function due to a lack of tuft cell–specific markers.

In the March 7 issue of The Journal of Cell Biology, a team of French researchers led by Philippe Jay identified a unique "signature" of proteins expressed by tuft cells. Like other intestinal cell types, tuft cells turned over rapidly and were replaced by the differentiation of proliferative stem cells' progeny in the intestinal crypts. This differentiation was blocked in the absence of ATOH1—a transcription factor required for the development of all intestinal secretory lineages. Yet tuft cell differentiation didn't require other transcription factors that specify enteroendocrine, Paneth, and goblet cells, suggesting that tuft cells represent a distinct lineage of intestinal secretory cells.

The team found that tuft cells secrete opioids and produce enzymes that synthesize prostaglandins. The latter observation suggests that tuft cells may promote inflammation and tumorigenesis. Indeed, the researchers identified tuft cell–like cells in several early stage intestinal tumors. To really understand tuft cells' function, however, Jay hopes to identify transcription factors uniquely required for their development in order to generate mice that specifically lack tuft cells from their intestinal epithelium.

Explore further: Manipulation of molecule protects intestinal cells from radiation

More information: Gerbe, F., et al. 2011. J. Cell Biol. doi:10.1083/jcb.201010127

Related Stories

'Scrawny' gene keeps stem cells healthy

January 7, 2009

( -- Stem cells are the body's primal cells, retaining the youthful ability to develop into more specialized types of cells over many cycles of cell division. How do they do it? Scientists at the Carnegie Institution ...

The making of an intestinal stem cell

March 5, 2009

Researchers have found the factor that makes the difference between a stem cell in the intestine and any other cell. The discovery reported in the March 6th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, is an essential ...

Recommended for you

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.