The bHLH transcription factor ASCL1 promotes differentiation of endocrine cells in the stomach and is regulated by Notch signaling

Elise S. Hibdon, Theresa M. Keeley, Juanita L. Merchant, Linda C. Samuelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Notch signaling regulates gastrointestinal stem cell proliferation and differentiation yet Notch-regulated transcriptional effectors of gastric epithelial cell differentiation are poorly understood. Here we tested the role of the bHLH transcription factor Achaete-Scute homolog 1 (ASCL1) in gastric epithelial cell differentiation, and its regulation by Notch. Newborn Ascl1 null mice showed a loss of expression of markers of neurogenin-3-dependent enteroendocrine cells, with normal expression of enterochromaffin-like cells, mucous cells, chief cells, and parietal cells. In adult mice, Ascl1 gene expression was observed in the stomach, but not the intestine, with higher expression in antral than corpus epithelium. Lineage tracing in Ascl1-CreERT2; Rosa26-LSL-tdTomato mice revealed single, scattered ASCL1+ cells in the gastric epithelium, demonstrating expression in antral gastrin- and serotonin-producing endocrine cells. ASCL1-expressing endocrine cells persisted for several weeks posttamoxifen labeling with a half-life of approximately 2 months. Lineage tracing in Gastrin-CreERT2 mice demonstrated a similar lifespan for gastrin-producing cells, confirming that gastric endocrine cells are long-lived. Finally, treatment of Ascl1-CreERT2; Rosa26-LSL-tdTomato mice with the pan-Notch inhibitor dibenzazepine increased the number of lineage-labeled cells in the gastric antrum, suggesting that Notch signaling normally inhibits Ascl1 expression. Notch regulation of Ascl1 was also demonstrated in a genetic mouse model of Notch activation, as well as Notch-manipulated antral organoid cultures, thus suggesting that ASCL1 is a key downstream Notch pathway effector promoting endocrine cell differentiation in the gastric epithelium.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Although Notch signaling is known to regulate cellular differentiation in the stomach, downstream effectors are poorly described. Here we demonstrate that the bHLH transcription factor ASCL1 is expressed in endocrine cells in the stomach and is required for formation of neurogenin-3-dependent enteroendocrine cells but not enterochromaffin-like cells. We also demonstrate that Ascl1 expression is inhibited by Notch signaling, suggesting that ASCL1 is a Notch-regulated transcriptional effector directing enteroendocrine cell fate in the mouse stomach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G458-G470
JournalAmerican journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • EC cell
  • ECL cell
  • G cell
  • endocrine cell turnover
  • gastric epithelial cell differentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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