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The intestinal epithelium is largely maintained by self-renewing stem cells but with apparently committed progenitors also contributing, particularly following tissue damage. However, the mechanism of, and requirement for, progenitor plasticity in mediating pathological response remain unknown. Here we show that phosphorylation of the transcription factor Atoh1 is required for both the contribution of secretory progenitors to the stem cell pool and for a robust regenerative response. As confirmed by lineage tracing, Atoh1+ cells (Atoh1(WT)CreERT2 mice) give rise to multilineage intestinal clones both in the steady state and after tissue damage. In a phosphomutant Atoh1(9S/T-A)CreERT2 line, preventing phosphorylation of ATOH1 protein acts to promote secretory differentiation and inhibit the contribution of progenitors to self-renewal. Following chemical colitis, Atoh1+ cells of Atoh1(9S/T-A)CreERT2 mice have reduced clonogenicity that affects overall regeneration. Progenitor plasticity maintains robust self-renewal in the intestinal epithelium, and the balance between stem and progenitor fate is directly coordinated by ATOH1 multisite phosphorylation.

Original publication




Journal article


Cell Stem Cell

Publication Date





436 - 443.e7


Atoh1, intestinal stem cell, phosphorylation, plasticity, secretory progenitor