Krüppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) is a zinc finger transcription factor that plays a vital role in regulating cell lineage differentiation during development and maintaining epithelial homeostasis in the intestine. In normal intestine, KLF4 is predominantly expressed in the differentiated epithelial cells. It has been identified as a tumor suppressor in colorectal cancer. KLF4 knockout mice demonstrated a decrease in number of goblet cells in the colon, and conditional ablation of KLF4 from the intestinal epithelium led to altered epithelial homeostasis. However, the role of KLF4 in differentiated intestinal cells and colon cancer cells, as well as the mechanism by which it regulates homeostasis and represses tumorigenesis in the intestine is not well understood. In our study, KLF4 was partially depleted in the differentiated intestinal epithelial cells by a tamoxifen-inducible Cre recombinase. We found a significant increase in the number of goblet cells in the KLF4-deleted small intestine, suggesting that KLF4 is not only required for goblet cell differentiation, but also required for maintaining goblet cell numbers through its function in inhibiting cell proliferation. The number and position of Paneth cells also changed. This is consistent with the KLF4 knockout study using villin-Cre [1]. Through immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining and statistical analysis, we found that a stem cell and/or tuft cell marker, DCAMKL1, and a proliferation marker, Ki67, are affected by KLF4 depletion, while an enteroendocrine cell marker, neurotensin (NT), was not affected. In addition, we found KLF4 depletion altered the morphology and polarity of the intestinal epithelial cells. Using a three-dimensional (3D) intestinal epithelial cyst formation assay, we found that KLF4 is essential for cell polarity and crypt-cyst formation in human colon cancer cells. These findings suggest that, as a tumor suppressor in colorectal cancer, KLF4 affects intestinal epithelial cell morphology by regulating proliferation, differentiation and polarity of the cells.

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Published in PLoS One, v. 7, no. 2, p. 32492.

© 2012 Yu et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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