Enteroendocrine cells (EECs) play a key role in nutrient digestion and absorption, and are essential for normal life. Recently, EEC function has received considerable attention because several gastrointestinal hormones modulate insulin secretion and food intake; and, gut hormone-based therapies have been developed to treat diabetes mellitus.
Despite these advances, the regulation of EECs remains poorly understood. The development of transgenic mouse models that express green fluorescent proteins (GFP) under specific hormone promoters (e.g., peptide YY-GFP) is shedding light onto previously overlooked features of EECs.
These cells have prominent cytoplasmic processes that extend underneath enterocytes, and in some EECs, such as the L cell of the distal ileum, the basal process can be over click for more 50 μm long. These basal cytoplasmic processes resemble axons and end in synaptic-like bouton.
The location and anatomy of these processes suggest two functions: (1) to monitor absorbed nutrients at the base of enterocytes; and (2) to convey electrochemical information through cell-cell connections with subepithelial myofibroblasts and/or nerves located directly beneath in the lamina propria.
Understanding how EECs communicate with cells in the lamina propria may provide novel ways to treat metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes.