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The present work describes a severe-combined immunodeficient murine xenograft model used to investigate human gastrointestinal ontogenesis. Specifically, the study has tested whether carefully selected regions of human fetal gut are able to undergo region-specific morphogenesis and epithelial cytodifferentiation when transplanted subcutaneously into immunodeficient mice. In addition, double-label in situ hybridisation techniques, utilising specific human and mouse DNA probes, have been adopted to characterise host and donor cell types and to investigate the potential developmental roles for non-epithelial cells in the regulation of epithelial differentiation pathways in vivo. Human fetal small and large bowel developed to form a characteristic mucosa 10 weeks after transplantation, which displayed clear region-specific structural and functional gradients. The initial phase of xenograft epithelialisation closely resembled the stratified type of epithelium which is present during early fetal gastrointestinal development. Idiosyncratic epithelial differentiation pathways were recorded during xenograft regeneration, with an absence of Paneth cells and an abundance of enteroendocrine cells when compared with developed xenograft and paediatric intestine. Such differences may, therefore, be important in ensuring rapid and region-specific development in the absence of conventional luminal stimuli and hormonal changes that occur normally during pregnancy. In situ hybridisation demonstrated an exclusively human origin for the intestinal xenograft epithelium and muscularis mucosa and externa. Although the submucosa and lamina propria were comprised of a chimeric mixture, murine cells were rarely seen to contact with the epithelium, which interacted primarily with human myofibroblasts and human intraepithelial lymphocytes. It is proposed that a 'selection' process operates to maintain species-specific cellular interactions, and this mechanism may subsequently play an important role in regulating epithelial cell differentiation, orchestrated in part by juxtaposed non-epithelial cell types.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





361 - 371


Absorption, Animals, Cell Differentiation, Cell Division, DNA, Disease Models, Animal, Embryonic and Fetal Development, Fetal Tissue Transplantation, Humans, Intestines, Mice, Mice, SCID, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, Transplantation, Heterologous