This protocol describes a method for efficient immunolabelling of thin tissue slices containing a few rows of intact intestinal crypts, which yields large numbers of them being oriented favorably for recording stacks of optical sections aligned with the crypt long axis (Bellis et al., 2012). The latter can then be used for cell positional analysis, 3D-reconstruction and -analysis. The simple epithelium lining the small intestine is organized into contiguous crypts of Lieberkühn (Potten, 1998; Barker et al., 2012; De Mey and Freund, 2013) several of which making up a crypt/villus unit. Each crypt is a multicellular proliferation unit with a tight hierarchical organization. Under steady state conditions, the epithelium is continuously and rapidly renewed, driven by divisions of multipotent intestinal SCs near the crypt base and cell removal from the villus tip. Techniques for analyzing the organization of the crypts play an important role in the field. Maximal efficiency is obtained by using optical sections obtained from confocal scanning and/or Nomarski optics passing through the center of the longitudinal crypt axis to view the crypt as two cell columns of hierarchical lineage starting from cells positioned at or near the crypt base. This enables positional analysis of certain cellular capacities like performing DNA synthesis, undergoing mitosis and apoptosis (Caldwell et al., 2007; Fleming et al., 2007; Quyn et al., 2010), responding to injury (Potten et al., 1997), or expressing genes (Barker et al., 2012; Bjerknes et al., 2012; Itzkovitz et al., 2012). Our protocol has allowed us to demonstrate that some divisions are asymmetric with respect to cell fate and the occurrence of oriented cell division (OCD) in 80% of the proliferating cells in the upper stem cell and transit amplifying zones. It has further revealed planar cell polarities which are important for crypt homeostasis and stem cell biology and alterations in apparently normal crypts and microadenomas of mice carrying germline Apc mutations shedding new light on the first stages of progression towards colorectal cancer.
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