LGR5 marks resident adult epithelial stem cells at the gland base in the mouse pyloric stomach1, but the identity of the equivalent human stem cell population remains unknown owing to a lack of surface markers that facilitate its prospective isolation and validation. In mouse models of intestinal cancer, LGR5+ intestinal stem cells are major sources of cancer following hyperactivation of the WNT pathway2. However, the contribution of pyloric LGR5+ stem cells to gastric cancer following dysregulation of the WNT pathway—a frequent event in gastric cancer in humans3—is unknown. Here we use comparative profiling of LGR5+ stem cell populations along the mouse gastrointestinal tract to identify, and then functionally validate, the membrane protein AQP5 as a marker that enriches for mouse and human adult pyloric stem cells. We show that stem cells within the AQP5+ compartment are a source of WNT-driven, invasive gastric cancer in vivo, using newly generated Aqp5-creERT2 mouse models. Additionally, tumour-resident AQP5+ cells can selectively initiate organoid growth in vitro, which indicates that this population contains potential cancer stem cells. In humans, AQP5 is frequently expressed in primary intestinal and diffuse subtypes of gastric cancer (and in metastases of these subtypes), and often displays altered cellular localization compared with healthy tissue. These newly identified markers and mouse models will be an invaluable resource for deciphering the early formation of gastric cancer, and for isolating and characterizing human-stomach stem cells as a prerequisite for harnessing the regenerative-medicine potential of these cells in the clinic.
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