There are few reliable markers for adult stem cells and none for those of the intestinal epithelium. Previously, indirect experimental approaches have predicted stem cell position and numbers. The Musashi-1 (Msi-1) gene encodes an RNA binding protein associated with asymmetric divisions in neural progenitor cells. Two-day-old, adult, and 4.5 h, 1-, 2-, 4- and 12-day post-irradiation samples of BDF1 mouse small intestine, together with some samples of mouse colon were stained with a rat monoclonal antibody to Musashi-1 (14 H-1). Min (+/-) mice with small intestinal adenomas of varying sizes were also analysed. Samples of human small and large bowel were also studied but the antibody staining was weak. Musashi-1 expression was observed using immunohistochemistry in neonatal, adult, and regenerating crypts with a staining pattern consistent with the predicted number and distribution of early lineage cells including the functional stem cells in these situations. Early dysplastic crypts and adenomas were also strongly Musashi-1 positive. In situ hybridization studies showed similar expression patterns for the Musashi mRNA and real-time quantitative RT-PCR showed dramatically more Msi-1 mRNA expression in Min tumours compared with adjacent normal tissue. These observations suggest that Musashi-1 is a marker of stem and early lineage progenitor cells in murine intestinal tissue.
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