Modelling the spatio-temporal cell dynamics reveals novel insights on cell differentiation and proliferation in the small intestinal crypt

Carmen Pin, Alastair J. M. Watson, Simon R. Carding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


We developed a slow structural relaxation model to describe cellular dynamics in the crypt of the mouse small intestine. Cells are arranged in a three dimensional spiral the size of which dynamically changes according to cell production demands of adjacent villi. Cell differentiation and proliferation is regulated through Wnt and Notch signals, the strength of which depends on the local cell composition. The highest level of Wnt activity is associated with maintaining equipotent stem cells (SC), Paneth cells and common goblet-Paneth cell progenitors (CGPCPs) intermingling at the crypt bottom. Low levels of Wnt signalling area are associated with stem cells giving rise to secretory cells (CGPCPs, enteroendocrine or Tuft cells) and proliferative absorptive progenitors. Deciding between these two fates, secretory and stem/absorptive cells, depends on Notch signalling. Our model predicts that Notch signalling inhibits secretory fate if more than 50% of cells they are in contact with belong to the secretory lineage. CGPCPs under high Wnt signalling will differentiate into Paneth cells while those migrating out from the crypt bottom differentiate into goblet cells. We have assumed that mature Paneth cells migrating upwards undergo anoikis. Structural relaxation explains the localisation of Paneth cells to the crypt bottom in the absence of active forces. The predicted crypt generation time from one SC is 4-5 days with 10-12 days needed to reach a structural steady state. Our predictions are consistent with experimental observations made under altered Wnt and Notch signalling. Mutations affecting stem cells located at the crypt floor have a 50% chance of being propagated throughout the crypt while mutations in cells above are rarely propagated. The predicted recovery time of an injured crypt losing half of its cells is approximately 2 days.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37115
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2012


  • Animals
  • Anoikis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Computer Simulation
  • Intestine, Small
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Paneth Cells
  • Receptors, Notch
  • Stem Cells
  • Time Factors
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway

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