MLL1 is required for maintenance of intestinal stem cells

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Epigenetic mechanisms are gatekeepers for the gene expression patterns that establish and maintain cellular identity in mammalian development, stem cells and adult homeostasis. Amongst many epigenetic marks, methylation of histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4) is one of the most widely conserved and occupies a central position in gene expression. Mixed lineage leukemia 1 (MLL1/KMT2A) is the founding mammalian H3K4 methyltransferase. It was discovered as the causative mutation in early onset leukemia and subsequently found to be required for the establishment of definitive hematopoiesis and the maintenance of adult hematopoietic stem cells. Despite wide expression, the roles of MLL1 in non-hematopoietic tissues remain largely unexplored. To bypass hematopoietic lethality, we used bone marrow transplantation and conditional mutagenesis to discover that the most overt phenotype in adult Mll1-mutant mice is intestinal failure. MLL1 is expressed in intestinal stem cells (ISCs) and transit amplifying (TA) cells but not in the villus. Loss of MLL1 is accompanied by loss of ISCs and a differentiation bias towards the secretory lineage with increased numbers and enlargement of goblet cells. Expression profiling of sorted ISCs revealed that MLL1 is required to promote expression of several definitive intestinal transcription factors including Pitx1, Pitx2, Foxa1, Gata4, Zfp503 and Onecut2, as well as the H3K27me3 binder, Bahcc1. These results were recapitulated using conditional mutagenesis in intestinal organoids. The stem cell niche in the crypt includes ISCs in close association with Paneth cells. Loss of MLL1 from ISCs promoted transcriptional changes in Paneth cells involving metabolic and stress responses. Here we add ISCs to the MLL1 repertoire and observe that all known functions of MLL1 relate to the properties of somatic stem cells, thereby highlighting the suggestion that MLL1 is a master somatic stem cell regulator.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009250
JournalPLOS genetics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

External IDs

PubMedCentral PMC8641872
Scopus 85121899469
ORCID /0000-0002-7481-0220/work/142247409
ORCID /0000-0002-4754-1707/work/142248075
ORCID /0000-0002-2531-5514/work/142248551



  • Adult Stem Cells/physiology, Animals, Bone Marrow Transplantation, Cell Differentiation/genetics, DNA Methylation, Disease Models, Animal, Epigenesis, Genetic, Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase/genetics, Humans, Intestinal Failure/genetics, Intestinal Mucosa/cytology, Jejunum/cytology, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Mutagenesis, Mutation, Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein/genetics, Stem Cell Niche

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