Dynamic and reciprocal epithelial-mesenchymal interactions are critical for the normal morphogenesis and maintenance of epithelia. Epimorphin has been identified as a unique molecule expressed by mesenchymal cells and myofibroblasts and has putative morphogenetic effects in multiple epithelial tissues, including intestine, skin, mammary gland, lung, gallbladder, and liver. To define the in vivo role of epimorphin, we created epimorphin-null mice by targeted inactivation of the epimorphin gene. Male epimorphin–/– mice are sterile due to abnormal testicular development and impaired spermatogenesis. Intestinal growth is increased in epimorphin–/– mice due to augmented crypt cell proliferation and crypt fission during the neonatal (suckling) period, mediated at least in part by changes in bone morphogenetic protein (Bmp) and Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathways. Colonic mucosal injury and colitis induced by dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) are ameliorated in epimorphin–/– mice, probably due to the increased proliferative capacity of the epimorphin–/– colon. These in vivo findings support the notion that epimorphin is a key stromal regulator of epithelial cell proliferation and growth in the intestine. In addition, our studies demonstrate a novel and critical role for epimorphin in regulating testicular development and growth as well as spermatogenesis.
Yuan Wang, Lihua Wang, Hristo Iordanov, Elzbieta A. Swietlicki, Qun Zheng, Shujun Jiang, Yuzhu Tang, Marc S. Levin, Deborah C. Rubin