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Enteric nervous system (ENS) progenitor cells isolated from mouse and human bowel can be cultured in vitro as neurospheres which are aggregates of the proliferating progenitor cells, together with neurons and glial cells derived from them. To investigate the factors regulating progenitor cell proliferation and differentiation, we first characterised cell proliferation in mouse ENS neurospheres by pulse chase experiments using thymidine analogs. We demonstrate rapid and continuous cell proliferation near the neurosphere periphery, after which postmitotic cells move away from the periphery to become distributed throughout the neurosphere. While many proliferating cells expressed glial markers, expression of the neuronal markers β-tubulin III (Tuj1) and nitric oxide synthase was detected in increasing numbers of post-mitotic cells after a delay of several days. Treatment of both mouse and human neurospheres with the γ-secretase inhibitor N-[N-(3,5-Difluorophenacetyl)-L-alanyl]-S-phenylglycine t-butyl ester (DAPT) reduced expression of the transcription factors Hes1 and Hes5, demonstrating inhibition of Notch signaling. DAPT treatment also inhibited progenitor cell proliferation and increased the numbers of differentiating neurons expressing Tuj1 and nitric oxide synthase. To confirm that the cellular effects of DAPT treatment were due to inhibition of Notch signaling, siRNA knockdown of RBPjκ, a key component of the canonical Notch signaling pathway, was demonstrated both to reduce proliferation and to increase neuronal differentiation in neurosphere cells. These observations indicate that Notch signaling promotes progenitor cell proliferation and inhibits neuronal differentiation in ENS neurospheres.


Sokratis Theocharatos, David J Wilkinson, Sarah Darling, Bettina Wilm, Simon E Kenny, David Edgar. Regulation of progenitor cell proliferation and neuronal differentiation in enteric nervous system neurospheres. PloS one. 2013;8(1):e54809

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PMID: 23372773

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