Epithelial cell shedding and barrier function: a matter of life and death at the small intestinal villus tip

J. M. Williams, C. A. Duckworth, M. D. Burkitt, A. J. M. Watson, B. J. Campbell, D. M. Pritchard

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The intestinal epithelium is a critical component of the gut barrier. Composed of a single layer of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) held together by tight junctions, this delicate structure prevents the transfer of harmful microorganisms, antigens, and toxins from the gut lumen into the circulation. The equilibrium between the rate of apoptosis and shedding of senescent epithelial cells at the villus tip, and the generation of new cells in the crypt, is key to maintaining tissue homeostasis. However, in both localized and systemic inflammation, this balance may be disturbed as a result of pathological IEC shedding. Shedding of IECs from the epithelial monolayer may cause transient gaps or microerosions in the epithelial barrier, resulting in increased intestinal permeability. Although pathological IEC shedding has been observed in mouse models of inflammation and human intestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, understanding of the underlying mechanisms remains limited. This process may also be an important contributor to systemic and intestinal inflammatory diseases and gut barrier dysfunction in domestic animal species. This review aims to summarize current knowledge about intestinal epithelial cell shedding, its significance in gut barrier dysfunction and host-microbial interactions, and where research in this field is directed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-455
Number of pages11
JournalVeterinary Pathology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • genetically engineered mice
  • digestive tract
  • bacterial
  • immunologic
  • inflammation
  • nutritional
  • immunohistochemistry
  • imaging

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