Intestinal stem cells can increase gut size

October 31st, 2011 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 31 (IANS) Adult stem cells can reshape our organs to keep up with bodily changes, a finding that potentially paves the way for more effective treatment of diabetes and obesity.

Once embryonic stem cells mature into adult stem cells, they sit quietly in our tissues, replacing cells that die or are injured but doing little else.

But in working with fruit flies, researchers found that intestinal stem cells responded to higher food intake by producing more intestinal cells, expanding the size of the intestines as long as the food keeps flowing.

“When flies start to eat, the intestinal stem cells go into overdrive, and the gut expands,” said Lucy O’Brien, post-doctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley (UC-B) who led the study, the journal Cell reports.

“Four days later, the gut is four times bigger than before, but when food is taken away, the gut slims down,” O’Brien added, according to an UC-B statement.

Just as in humans and other mammals, O’Brien said, the fly intestine secretes its own insulin. In flies, intestinal insulin seems to be the signal that makes stem cells “supersize the gut”.

“Because of the many similarities between the fruit fly and the human, the discovery may hold a key to understanding how human organs adapt to environmental change,” said David Bilder, UC-B associate professor of molecular and cell biology.

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