The development of indefinitely propagating human 'mini-guts' has led to a rapid advance in gastrointestinal research related to transport physiology, developmental biology, pharmacology, and pathophysiology. These mini-guts, also called enteroids or colonoids, are derived from LGR5+ intestinal stem cells isolated from the small intestine or colon. Addition of WNT3A and other growth factors promotes stemness and results in viable, physiologically functional human intestinal or colonic cultures that develop a crypt–villus axis and can be differentiated into all intestinal epithelial cell types. The success of research using human enteroids has highlighted the limitations of using animals or in vitro, cancer-derived cell lines to model transport physiology and pathophysiology. For example, curative or preventive therapies for acute enteric infections have been limited, mostly due to the lack of a physiological human intestinal model. However, the human enteroid model enables specific functional studies of secretion and absorption in each intestinal segment as well as observations of the earliest molecular events that occur during enteric infections. This Review describes studies characterizing these human mini-guts as a physiological model to investigate intestinal transport and host–pathogen interactions.
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