Gremlin1 over-expression causes intestinal tumorigenesis in humans and mice arising from cells outside the crypt base stem cell niche


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Ian Tomlinson1
1University of Oxford, Oxfors, UK


Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS) is characterised by the development of mixed morphology colorectal tumours and is caused by a 40 kb duplication that results in aberrant epithelial expression of the mesenchymal Bone Morphogenetic Protein antagonist, GREM1. Here we use HMPS tissue and a mouse model of the disease to show that epithelial GREM1 disrupts homeostatic intestinal morphogen gradients, altering cell-fate, that is normally determined by position along the vertical epithelial axis. This promotes the persistence and/or reacquisition of stem-cell properties in Lgr5 negative (non-expressing) progenitor cells that have exited the stem-cell niche. These cells form ectopic crypts, proliferate, accumulate somatic mutations and can initiate intestinal neoplasia, indicating that the crypt base stem-cell is not the sole cell-of-origin of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, we show that epithelial expression of GREM1 also occurs in traditional serrated adenomas, sporadic pre-malignant lesions with a hitherto unknown pathogenesis and these lesions can be considered the sporadic equivalents of HMPS polyps.