The gastrointestinal tract is lined with a monolayer of cells that undergo perpetual and rapid renewal. Four principal, terminally differentiated cell types populate the monolayer, enterocytes, goblet cells, Paneth cells, and enteroendocrine cells. This epithelium exhibits complex patterns of regional differentiation, both from crypt-to-villus and from duodenum-to-colon. The "liver" fatty acid binding protein (L-FABP) gene represents a useful model for analyzing the molecular basis for intestinal epithelial differentiation since it exhibits cell-specific, region-specific, as well as developmental stage specific expression. We have previously linked portions of the 5' nontranscribed domain of the rat L-FABP gene to the human growth hormone (hGH) gene and analyzed expression of the fusion gene in adult transgenic mice. High levels of hGH expression were noted in enterocytes as well as cells that histologically resembled enteroendocrine cells. In the present study, we have used immunocytochemical techniques to map the distribution of enteroendocrine cells in the normal adult mouse gut and to characterize those that synthesize L-FABP. In addition, L-FABP/hGH fusion genes were used to identify subsets of enteroendocrine cells based on their ability to support hGH synthesis in several different pedigrees of transgenic mice. The results reveal remarkable differences in transgene expression between, and within, enteroendocrine cell populations previously classified only on the basis of their neuroendocrine products. In some cases, these differences are related to the position occupied by cells along the duodenal-to-colonic and crypt-to-villus axes of the gut. Thus, transgenes appear to be sensitive tools for examining the cellular and regional differentiation of this class of intestinal epithelial cells.

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