The intestinal epithelium is a heterogeneous cell monolayer that undergoes continuous renewal and differentiation along the crypt-villus axis. We have used transgenic mice to examine the compartmentalization of a regulated endocrine secretory protein, human growth hormone (hGH), in the four exocrine cells of the mouse intestinal epithelium (Paneth cells, intermediate cells, typical goblet cells, and granular goblet cells), as well as in its enteroendocrine and absorptive (enterocyte) cell populations. Nucleotides -596 to +21 of the rat liver fatty acid binding protein gene, when linked to the hGH gene (beginning at nucleotide +3) direct efficient synthesis of hGH in the gastrointestinal epithelium of transgenic animals (Sweetser, D. A., D. W. McKeel, E. F. Birkenmeier, P. C. Hoppe, and J. I. Gordon. 1988. Genes & Dev. 2:1318-1332). This provides a powerful in vivo model for analyzing protein sorting in diverse, differentiating, and polarized epithelial cells. Using EM immunocytochemical techniques, we demonstrated that this foreign polypeptide hormone entered the regulated basal granules of enteroendocrine cells as well as the apical secretory granules of exocrine Paneth cells, intermediate cells, and granular goblet cells. This suggests that common signals are recognized by the "sorting mechanisms" in regulated endocrine and exocrine cells. hGH was targeted to the electron-dense cores of secretory granules in granular goblet and intermediate cells, along with endogenous cell products. Thus, this polypeptide hormone contains domains that promote its segregation within certain exocrine granules. No expression of hGH was noted in typical goblet cells, suggesting that differences exist in the regulatory environments of granular and typical goblet cells. In enterocytes, hGH accumulated in dense-core granules located near apical and lateral cell surfaces, raising the possibility that these cells, which are known to conduct constitutive vesicular transport toward both apical and basolateral surfaces, also contain a previously unrecognized regulated pathway. Together our studies indicate that transgenic mice represent a valuable system for analyzing trafficking pathways and sorting mechanisms of secretory proteins in vivo.

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