Understanding cell organization in the human stomach

Francesco Boccellato and colleagues investigate how growth factors influence differentiation and patterning in human gastric glands.

May 14, 2021 – The lining of the stomach is a key barrier against infection and must be constantly regenerated to maintain its integrity. New cells for the lining are produced from stem cells, which differentiate into specialised cells with distinct functions, such as the production of acid or digestive enzymes. These specialized cells are precisely located in glands in the gastric lining. In this paper published in the journal Gastroenterology, Ludwig Oxford’s Francesco Boccellato and colleagues in Thomas Meyer’s laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, investigated the factors that control the differentiation and patterning of these specialised stomach cells.

The researchers used an advanced tissue culture model developed by Francesco called ‘mucosoids’ and exposed these cultures to a range of different growth factors to obtain functional cells producing protective mucus, digestive enzymes or gastric acid. They found that a factor called EGF, in combination with BMP and NOGGIN signalling, is important for the differentiation of each specialised cell type in the stomach glands. The researchers have also detected different levels of these molecules in human tissue samples taken from different regions of the stomach glands.

Of relevance to human disease, EGF may also be responsible for stomach lining alterations in the pre-cancerous condition atrophic gastritis. Understanding more about the role of EGF in gastric gland homeostasis may therefore shed light on the development of stomach cancer and will be investigated further in the Boccellato lab.


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