Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What do tuft cells do?

We've known for a half-century that the lining of the small intestine has a scattering of weird little cells called tuft cells.  They are called that because they have distinctive tufts of microvilli facing into the intestinal lumen.  But what do they do?  We're finally getting to the answer!

A recent article in Journal of Cell Biology outlines confirms some recent discoveries about tuft cell function and extends our knowledge a bit further.

Apparently, tuft cells are secretory cells that produce opioids in the gut.  They are also the only epithelial cells that produce the COX (cyclooxygenase) enzymes needed to produce prostaglandins involved in inflammation and tumor formation.

Some physiologists had previously proposed a sensory role for tuft cells.  Could they be involved in tasting foods in the gut and be part of the signaling mechanism that regulates exocrine and endocrine secretion that controls digestive and metabolic processes?

As we learn more about tuft cells, we are sure to discover a role for them in normal regulation of intestinal function as well as in important pathological processes. 

Want to know more?

A fifth amendment to the intestine's constitution
Ben ShortJournal of Cell Biology 2011 192:706. Published March 7, 2011, doi:10.1083/jcb.1925iti2
[Brief synopsis of the discovery and its importance]

Distinct ATOH1 and Neurog3 requirements define tuft cells as a new secretory cell type in the intestinal epithelium.
Gerbe, F., et al.
Journal of Cell Biology 2011 Mar 7;192(5):767-80. doi:10.1083/jcb.201010127.
[Original research article.  Includes many illustrations, supplements, helps and cross references. FREE full text]

Here's a really nice teaching image from the Gerbe et al. article, which complements Figure 25-18 in the Anatomy & Physiology 7/E textbook: (includes downloadable PowerPoint slide)

Here are all the PowerPoints available with the Gerbe et al. article:

Chemosensory Perception in the Gut 
Hofer, D., et al.
Physiology February 1999 vol. 14 no. 1 18-23  
[Article proposing sensory function of tuft cells; FREE access to full text/PDF; nice images]



Kevin Patton said...

It looks like the free access to the articles and images at the Journal of Cell Biology is temporarily suspended . . . sorry about that!

Your institution may have access to this journal.

Kevin Patton said...

If you click on the link for the PowerPoint slides, you can get all the images without a subscription to the journal.

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