Digestive Diseases and Sciences

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 76–83 | Cite as

Active β-Catenin Signaling in the Small Intestine of Humans During Infancy

  • Zenab M. DudhwalaEmail author
  • Paul A. Drew
  • Gordon S. Howarth
  • David Moore
  • Adrian G. Cummins
Original Article



Wnt-β-catenin signaling is essential for homeostasis of intestinal stem cells in mice and is thought to promote intestinal crypt fission.


The aim of this study was to investigate Wnt-β-catenin signaling in intestinal crypts of human infants.


Duodenal biopsies from nine infants (mean, range 0.9 years, 0.3–2 years) and 11 adults (mean, range 43 years, 34–71 years) were collected endoscopically. Active β-catenin signaling was assessed by cytoplasmic and nuclear β-catenin, nuclear c-Myc, and cytoplasmic Axin-2 expression in the base of crypts. Tissues were stained by an immunoperoxidase staining technique and quantified as pixel energy using cumulative signal analysis. Data were expressed as mean ± SD and significance assessed by Student’s t test.


Crypt fission was significantly higher in infants compared to adults (16 ± 8.6% versus 0.7 ± 0.6%, respectively, p < 0.0001). Expression of cytoplasmic and nuclear β-catenin was 1.8-fold (p < 0.0001) and 2.9-fold (p < 0.0001) higher in infants, respectively, while cytoplasmic Axin-2 was 3.1-fold (p < 0.0001) increased in infants. c-Myc expression was not significantly different between infants and adults. Expression was absent in Paneth cells but present in the transit amplifying zone of crypts. Crypt base columnar cells, which were intercalated between Paneth cells, expressed c-Myc.


Wnt-β-catenin signaling was active in crypt base columnar cells (i.e., intestinal stem cells) in human infants. This signaling could promote crypt fission during infancy. Wnt-β-catenin signaling likely acts in concert with other pathways to promote postnatal growth.


β-catenin Crypt fission Intestinal growth Small intestine Wnt 



Zenab Dudhwala gratefully received a Faculty of Health Science Divisional Scholarship from the University of Adelaide. The authors are grateful for funding from the Private Practice Fund of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville South, SA 5011, Australia.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None of the authors had a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zenab M. Dudhwala
    • 1
    Email author
  • Paul A. Drew
    • 2
    • 3
  • Gordon S. Howarth
    • 4
    • 5
  • David Moore
    • 4
    • 6
  • Adrian G. Cummins
    • 1
  1. 1.Gastroenterology Research Laboratory, Discipline of MedicineUniversity of Adelaide, and Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health ResearchWoodville SouthAustralia
  2. 2.Solid Cancer Regulation Group, Discipline of SurgeryUniversity of Adelaide, and the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health ResearchWoodville SouthAustralia
  3. 3.College of Nursing and Health SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Department of GastroenterologyWomen’s and Children’s HospitalNorth AdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Roseworthy CampusUniversity of AdelaideRoseworthyAustralia
  6. 6.Discipline of PaediatricsUniversity of AdelaideNorth AdelaideAustralia

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