The purpose of this work was to set up an in vitro model for the study of normal and pathological functions of the colonic epithelium. We have isolated colonic crypts by mild proteolytic digestion and mechanical dissociation of human biopsy material obtained during colonoscopy. The crypts, free of connective tissue, when placed in culture rapidly attached to the substrate and formed colonies containing over 95% of epithelial cells. Histochemical and ultrastructural characterization of the colonies showed the presence of both absorptive and secretory cells, exhibiting a high degree of differentiation. Proliferative activity occurred mostly during the first 24 h and progressively declined thereafter. The cells survived and maintained differentiated characteristics for at least three days in culture. This method can be used to study normal functions of the colonic epithelium. It may also be employed to investigate both noxious and protective factors in pathological conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal neoplasia.
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