Decoding epithelial signals: critical role for the epidermal growth factor receptor in controlling intestinal transport function

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The intestinal epithelium engages in bidirectional transport of fluid and electrolytes to subserve the physiological processes of nutrient digestion and absorption, as well as the elimination of wastes, without excessive losses of bodily fluids that would lead to dehydration. The overall processes of intestinal ion transport, which in turn drive the secretion or absorption of water, are accordingly carefully regulated. We and others have identified the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFr) as a critical regulator of mammalian intestinal ion transport. In this article, we focus on our studies that have uncovered the intricate signalling mechanisms downstream of EGFr that regulate both chloride secretion and sodium absorption by colonocytes. Emphasis will be placed on the EGFr-associated regulatory pathways that dictate the precise outcome to receptor activation in response to signals that may seem, on their face, to be quite similar if not identical. The concepts to be discussed underlie the ability of the intestinal epithelium to utilize a limited set of signalling effectors to produce a variety of outcomes suitable for varying physiological and pathophysiological demands. Our findings therefore are relevant not only to basic biological principles, but also may ultimately point to new therapeutic targets in intestinal diseases where ion transport is abnormal.
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