Reproductive and maturational nutritive needs are examples of situations in which alterations in circulating concentrations of estrogens are associated with changes in intestinal epithelial function. However, it is not clear that any of these effects is due to direct interaction of estrogen with intestinal epithelial estrogen receptors (ER). The experiments reported here were designed to determine whether the small intestinal epithelium contains functional ER and might, therefore, be an estrogen-responsive tissue. IEC-6 cells, a non-transformed line of cells isolated from rat small intestinal crypts, were used for many of the experiments, because they provide a pure preparation of crypt epithelial cells. IEC-6 cells were found to exhibit specific saturable binding of estradiol with a Kd of 5 x 10-10 M and approximately 100 binding sites/cell. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction demonstrated that IEC-6 cells as well as epithelial cells from each segment of the rat intestine (duodenum, jejunum, ileum, and colon) contained ER mRNA of the sequence determined from rat uterus. Estradiol was shown to stimulate IEC-6 cell c-fos mRNA content rapidly and transiently in a manner analogous to that which has been previously demonstrated for other estrogen-responsive tissues. These data demonstrate that intestinal epithelial cells contain ER capable of regulating gene transcription and provide the basis for future studies designed to elucidate the role of estrogens in the regulation of intestinal epithelial function and pathophysiology.
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