To absorb nutrients from food, the intestine develops a surface area of > 2,000 square feet! This surface must be constantly renewed, requiring a high rate of cell division. This image shows a cross section of the small intestine of a mouse that has been injected with a molecule that gets incorporated into newly synthesized DNA during cell division. This stains the dividing cells purple. Rapid proliferation is needed for efficient function of the absorptive surface, but must be tightly controlled by the body since unregulated cell division can result in cancer. Thus, identifying the molecules and signals that control intestinal regeneration are important for two reasons: these molecules could be used to encourage intestinal growth in cases of intestinal injury or disease and the same molecules and pathways could represent important therapeutic targets in cancer.
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