Optimality in the development of intestinal crypts

S. Itzkovitz, I.C. Blat, T. Jacks, H. Clevers, A. van Oudenaarden

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

117 Citations (Scopus)


Intestinal crypts in mammals are comprised of long-lived stem cells and shorter-lived progenies. These two populations are maintained in specific proportions during adult life. Here, we investigate the design principles governing the dynamics of these proportions during crypt morphogenesis. Using optimal control theory, we show that a proliferation strategy known as a "bang-bang" control minimizes the time to obtain a mature crypt. This strategy consists of a surge of symmetric stem cell divisions, establishing the entire stem cell pool first, followed by a sharp transition to strictly asymmetric stem cell divisions, producing nonstem cells with a delay. We validate these predictions using lineage tracing and single-molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization of intestinal crypts in infant mice, uncovering small crypts that are entirely composed of Lgr5-labeled stem cells, which become a minority as crypts continue to grow. Our approach can be used to uncover similar design principles in other developmental systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-619
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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