Potten, C. S. Radiation, the Ideal Cytotoxic Agent for Studying the Cell Biology of Tissues such as the Small Intestine. Radiat. Res. 161, 123–136 (2004).
Epithelial tissues are highly polarized, with the proliferative compartment subdivided into units of proliferation in many instances. My interests have been in trying to understand how many cellular constituents exist, what their function is, and what the intercommunicants are that ensure appropriate steady-state cell replacement rates. Radiation has proven to be a valuable tool to induce cell death, reproductive sterilization, and regenerative proliferation in these systems, the responses to which can provide information on the number of regenerative cells (a function associated with stem cells). Such studies have helped define the epidermal proliferative units and the structurally similar units on the dorsal surface of the tongue. The radiation responses considered in conjunction with a wide range of cell kinetic, lineage tracking and somatic mutation studies together with complex mathematical modeling provide insights into the functioning of the proliferative units (crypts) of the small intestine. Comparative studies have then been undertaken with the crypts in the large bowel. In the small intestine, in which cancer rarely develops, various protective mechanisms have evolved to ensure the genetic integrity of the stem cell compartment. Stem cells in the small intestinal crypts are intolerant of genotoxic damage (including that induced by very low doses of radiation); they do not undergo cell cycle arrest and repair but commit an altruistic TP53-dependent cell suicide (apoptosis). This process is compromised in the large bowel by BCL2 expression. Recent studies have suggested a second genome protection mechanism operating in the stem cells of the small intestinal crypts that may also have a TP53 dependence. Such studies have allowed the cell lineages and genome protection mechanisms operating the small intestinal crypts to be defined.