Villification in the mouse: BMP signals control intestinal villus patterning


In the intestine, finger-like villi provide abundant surface area for nutrient absorption. During murine villus development, epithelial Hedgehog (Hh) signals promote aggregation of subepithelial mesenchymal clusters that drive villus emergence. Clusters arise first dorsally and proximally and spread over the entire intestine within 24 h, but the mechanism driving this pattern in the murine intestine is unknown. In chick, the driver of cluster pattern is tensile force from developing smooth muscle, which generates deep longitudinal epithelial folds that locally concentrate the Hh signal, promoting localized expression of cluster genes. By contrast, we show that in mouse, muscle-induced epithelial folding does not occur and artificial deformation of the epithelium does not determine the pattern of clusters or villi. In intestinal explants, modulation of Bmp signaling alters the spatial distribution of clusters and changes the pattern of emerging villi. Increasing Bmp signaling abolishes cluster formation, whereas inhibiting Bmp signaling leads to merged clusters. These dynamic changes in cluster pattern are faithfully simulated by a mathematical model of a Turing field in which an inhibitor of Bmp signaling acts as the Turing activator. In vivo, genetic interruption of Bmp signal reception in either epithelium or mesenchyme reveals that Bmp signaling in Hh-responsive mesenchymal cells controls cluster pattern. Thus, unlike in chick, the murine villus patterning system is independent of muscle-induced epithelial deformation. Rather, a complex cocktail of Bmps and Bmp signal modulators secreted from mesenchymal clusters determines the pattern of villi in a manner that mimics the spread of a self-organizing Turing field.

DEVELOPMENT 143, 427-436