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Intestinal stem cells respond to food by supersizing the gut
Date:10/27/2011

A new study from University of California, Berkeley, researchers demonstrates that adult stem cells can reshape our organs in response to changes in the body and the environment, a finding that could have implications for diabetes and obesity.

Current thinking has been that, once embryonic stem cells mature into adult stem cells, they sit quietly in our tissues, replacing cells that die or are injured but doing little else.

But in working with fruit flies, the researchers found that intestinal stem cells responded to increased food intake by producing more intestinal cells, expanding the size of the intestines as long as the food keeps flowing.

"When flies start to eat, the intestinal stem cells go into overdrive, and the gut expands," said UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellow Lucy O'Brien. "Four days later, the gut is four times bigger than before, but when food is taken away, the gut slims down."

Just as in humans and other mammals, O'Brien added, the fly intestine secretes its own insulin. In flies, intestinal insulin seems to be the signal that makes stem cells "supersize the gut."

"Because of the many similarities between the fruit fly and the human, the discovery may hold a key to understanding how human organs adapt to environmental change," said David Bilder, UC-Berkeley associate professor of molecular and cell biology.

The research will be published in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Cell.

Stem cells key to adaptability

Many tissues grow or shrink with usage, including muscle, liver and intestine. Human intestines, for example, regrow after portions have been surgically removed because of cancer or injury, and hibernating animals see their intestines shrink to one-third their normal size during winter.

"One strategy animals use to deal with environmental variability is to tune the workings of their organ systems to match the conditions at hand," O'Brien said. "How
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert  

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