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BME Associate Professor Scott Magness, postdoctoral Joseph Burclaff and graduate student Jarrett Bliton, among other authors, have mapped for the first time entire human gut at single cell resolution, advancing our understanding of human intestinal physiology. The Magness lab used entire human GI tracts from three organ donors to show how cell types differ across all regions of the intestines, to shed light on cellular functions, and to show gene expression differences between these cells and between individuals.

Published in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, this work opens the door to exploring the many facets of gut health in a much more precise manner at greater resolution than ever before. “Our lab showed it’s possible to learn about each cell type’s function in important processes, such as nutrient absorption, protection from parasites, and the production of mucus and hormones that regulate eating behavior and gut motility,” said Dr Magness, senior author of the paper. “We also learned how the gut lining might interact with the environment through receptors and sensors, and how drugs could interact with different cell types.”

Magness and colleagues explored all epithelial receptors – the cell surface proteins used to communicate with other cells and molecules and with the environment of the gut. They could see which receptors were expressed the most and in which cell types, painting a new picture of how cells might interact with gut contents such as nutrients, microbes, toxins, and drugs. “As far as we know, we’re the first to do this kind of analysis across the length of the human gut from three full donors,” BME graduate student Bliton said. “We can look at each cell type and predict which pharmaceuticals might affect which cell type individually.” BME postdoc Burclaff added, “We were able to see the differences in cell types throughout the entire digestive tracts, and we can see different gene expression levels in the same cell types from three different people. We can see the different sets of genes turned on or off in individual cells. This is how, for instance, we might begin to understand why some people form toxicity to certain foods or drugs and some people don’t.” You can read their publication in full here. Visit the UNC School of Medicine News page for the article here.


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