Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Critical role revealed for the ERK enzyme pathway in maintaining tissue patterning

22 September 2022

Crypt Dwellers

You need the right cells in the right place for your organs to work – a process known as tissue patterning. In your colon lining, stem cells that help maintain tissue patterning reside in structures called crypts. Researchers developed human 2D organoids to mimic the colon lining and investigate the role of ERK, an enzyme implicated in tissue patterning. Cells were genetically engineered to contain a sensor that reacts to ERK activity levels, ERK-KTR (pictured, right) and a cell nucleus marker (left). Seeing ERK-KTR fluorescence in the cell cytoplasm means high ERK activity and in the nucleus, low ERK activity. Using live-cell fluorescence microscopy, they found low ERK activity in crypt-like structures (centre) and high activity in more mobile cells peripherally. Chemically activating ERK in all cells caused crypt-like structures and stem cells to disappear, while blocking ERK increased stem cell numbers. Your colon lining, therefore, needs coordinated ERK signalling to maintain itself.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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