Cryptdin mRNA codes for the apparent precursor to a corticostatin/defensin-related peptide that accumulates to high levels in mouse intestinal crypt epithelium during postnatal development. The primary structure, intestinal cell distribution, and developmental appearance of cryptdin mRNA have been determined. Cryptdin mRNA is 450-480 nucleotides long. Translation of the partial cryptdin cDNA sequence reveals a 70-amino acid open reading frame that includes 32 carboxy-terminal residues that align with those in the consensus sequence, C.CR...C....ER..G.C....CCR, which is a common feature of leukocyte defensins and lung corticostatins (Selsted, M. E., D. M. Brown, R. J. DeLange, S. S. L. Harwig, and R. I. Lehrer. 1985. J. Biol. Chem. 260:4579-4584; Zhu, Q., J. Hu, S. Mulay, F. Esch, S. Shimasaki, and S. Solomon. 1988. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 85:592-596). In situ hybridization of cryptdin cDNA to paraformaldehyde-fixed, frozen sections of adult jejunum and ileum showed intense and specific labeling of epithelial cells in the base of all crypts. Analysis of sections from suckling mice showed that cryptdin mRNA is detectable in 10-20% of crypts in 10-d-old mice, in approximately 80% of crypts in 16-d-old mice, and in all crypts of mice 20 d and older. During the fourth week, the sequence accumulates in crypts to the maximal adult level. Cryptdin mRNA content in adult small intestine is independent both of T cell involvement and luminal bacteria. The role of cryptdin in small bowel physiology remains to be determined: cryptdin may inhibit bacterial translocation, modulate intestinal hormone synthesis, influence hormonal sensitivity of the intestinal epithelium, or exhibit a multiplicity of related activities.

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