The intestinal epithelium is characterized by an extremely rapid turnover rate. In mammals, the entire epithelial lining is renewed within 4 – 5 days. Adult intestinal stem cells reside at the bottom of the crypts of Lieberkühn, are earmarked by expression of the Lgr5 gene, and preserve homeostasis through their characteristic high proliferative rate1. Throughout the small intestine, Lgr5+ stem cells are intermingled with specialized secretory cells called Paneth cells. Paneth cells secrete antibacterial compounds (i.e., lysozyme and cryptdins/defensins) and exert a controlling role on the intestinal flora. More recently, a novel function has been discovered for Paneth cells, namely their capacity to provide niche support to Lgr5+ stem cells through several key ligands as Wnt3, EGF, and Dll12. When isolated ex vivo and cultured in the presence of specific growth factors and extracellular matrix components, whole intestinal crypts give rise to long-lived and self-renewing 3D structures called organoids that highly resemble the crypt-villus epithelial architecture of the adult small intestine3. Organoid cultures, when established from whole crypts, allow the study of self-renewal and differentiation of the intestinal stem cell niche, though without addressing the contribution of its individual components, namely the Lgr5+ and Paneth cells. Here, we describe a novel approach to the organoid assay that takes advantage of the ability of Paneth and Lgr5+ cells to associate and form organoids when co-cultured. This approach, here referred to as “organoid reconstitution assay” (ORA), allows the genetic and biochemical modification of Paneth or Lgr5+ stem cells, followed by reconstitution into organoids. As such, it allows the functional analysis of the two main components of the intestinal stem cell niche.

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Journal of Visualized Experiments
Department of Pathology

Schewe, M., Sacchetti, A., Schmitt, M. (Mark), & Fodde, R. (2017). The organoid reconstitution assay (ORA) for the functional analysis of intestinal stem and niche cells. Journal of Visualized Experiments, 2017(129). doi:10.3791/56329