Interconversion between intestinal stem cell populations in distinct niches.
Intestinal epithelial stem cell identity and location have been the subject of substantial research. Cells in the +4 niche are slow-cycling and label-retaining, whereas a different stem cell niche located at the crypt base is occupied by crypt base columnar (CBC) cells. CBCs are distinct from +4 cells, and the relationship between them is unknown, though both give rise to all intestinal epithelial lineages. We demonstrate that Hopx, an atypical homeobox protein, is a specific marker of +4 cells. Hopx-expressing cells give rise to CBCs and all mature intestinal epithelial lineages. Conversely, CBCs can give rise to +4 Hopx-positive cells. These findings demonstrate a bidirectional lineage relationship between active and quiescent stem cells in their niches.