Growth control mechanisms in normal and transformed intestinal cells

Antony W. Burgess


The cells populating the intestinal crypts are part of a dynamic tissue system which involves the self–renewal of stem cells, a commitment to proliferation, lineage–specific differentiation, movement and cell death. Our knowledge of these processes is limited, but even now there are important clues to the nature of the regulatory systems, and these clues are leading to a better understanding of intestinal cancers. Few intestinal–specific markers have been described; however, homeobox genes such as cdx–2 appear to be important for morphogenic events in the intestine. There are several intestinal cell surface proteins such as the A33 antigen which have been used as targets for immunotherapy. Many regulatory cytokines (lymphokines or growth factors) influence intestinal development: enteroglucagon, IL–2, FGF, EGF family members. In conjunction with cell–cell contact and/or ECM, these cytokines lead to specific differentiation signals. Although the tissue distribution of mitogens such as EGF, TGFα, amphiregulin, betacellulin, HB–EGF and cripto have been studied in detail, the physiological roles of these proteins have been difficult to determine. Clearly, these mitogens and the corresponding receptors are involved in the maintenance and progression of the tumorigenic state. The interactions between mitogenic, tumour suppressor and oncogenic systems are complex, but the tumorigenic effects of multiple lesions in intestinal carcinomas involve synergistic actions from lesions in these different systems. Together, the truncation of apc and activation of the ras oncogene are sufficient to induce colon tumorigenesis. If we are to improve cancer therapy, it is imperative that we discover the biological significance of these interactions, in particular the effects on cell division, movement and survival.