Research Article

Villification: How the Gut Gets Its Villi

Science  11 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6155, pp. 212-218
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238842

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Intestinal Villus Formation

The intestinal villi are essential elaborations of the lining of the gut that increase the epithelial surface area for nutrient absorption. Shyer et al. (p. 212, published online 29 August; see the Perspective by Simons) show that in both the developing human and chick gut, the villi are formed in a step-wise progression, involving the sequential folding of the endoderm into longitudinal ridges, via a zigzag pattern, to finally form individual villi. These changes are established through the differentiation of the smooth muscle layers of the gut, restricting the expansion of the adjacent proliferating and growing endoderm and mesenchyme, generating compressive stresses that lead to the buckling and folding of the tissue.

Abstract

The villi of the human and chick gut are formed in similar stepwise progressions, wherein the mesenchyme and attached epithelium first fold into longitudinal ridges, then a zigzag pattern, and lastly individual villi. We find that these steps of villification depend on the sequential differentiation of the distinct smooth muscle layers of the gut, which restrict the expansion of the growing endoderm and mesenchyme, generating compressive stresses that lead to their buckling and folding. A quantitative computational model, incorporating measured properties of the developing gut, recapitulates the morphological patterns seen during villification in a variety of species. These results provide a mechanistic understanding of the formation of these elaborations of the lining of the gut, essential for providing sufficient surface area for nutrient absorption.

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