The mammalian intestine has one of the highest turnover rates in the body. The intestinal epithelium is completely renewed in less than a week. It is divided into spatially distinct compartments in the form of finger-like projections and invaginations that are dedicated to specific functions. Intestinal cells are constantly produced from a stem cell reservoir that gives rise to proliferating transient amplifying cells, which subsequently differentiate and migrate to the correct compartment before dying after having fulfilled their physiological function. In recent years, a substantial body of evidence has accumulated to support the concept that signaling pathways known to be crucial for embryonic development of multiple organisms play a critical role in tightly regulating and controlling the self-renewing process of the intestine. Moreover, the same pathways appear to be deregulated in several hereditary and sporadic colorectal cancer syndromes due to activating and/or inactivating mutations of key components of such pathways. In this review we discuss recent findings demonstrating that differentiation and homeostasis of the intestine are controlled by developmental pathways such as Wnt, Notch, TGF-β and Hedgehog, and illustrate how their deregulation contributes to intestinal neoplasia.
Keywords: intestinal epithelium, Bone morphogenic protein, Hedgehog pathways, Wnt pathway, Ephrin receptors
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