Specialized Mechanosensory Epithelial Cells in Mouse Gut Intrinsic Tactile Sensitivity

Anthony J. Treichel, Isabelle Finholm, Kaitlyn R. Knutson, Constanza Alcaino, Sara T. Whiteman, Matthew R. Brown, Aleksey Matveyenko, Andrew Wegner, Halil Kacmaz, Arnaldo Mercado-Perez, Gabriella Bedekovicsne Gajdos, Tamas Ordog, Madhusudan Grover, Joseph Szurszewski, David R. Linden, Gianrico Farrugia, Arthur Beyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Aims: The gastrointestinal (GI) tract extracts nutrients from ingested meals while protecting the organism from infectious agents frequently present in meals. Consequently, most animals conduct the entire digestive process within the GI tract while keeping the luminal contents entirely outside the body, separated by the tightly sealed GI epithelium. Therefore, like the skin and oral cavity, the GI tract must sense the chemical and physical properties of the its external interface to optimize its function. Specialized sensory enteroendocrine cells (EECs) in GI epithelium interact intimately with luminal contents. A subpopulation of EECs express the mechanically gated ion channel Piezo2 and are developmentally and functionally like the skin's touch sensor— the Merkel cell. We hypothesized that Piezo2+ EECs endow the gut with intrinsic tactile sensitivity. Methods: We generated transgenic mouse models with optogenetic activators in EECs and Piezo2 conditional knockouts. We used a range of reference standard and novel techniques from single cells to living animals, including single-cell RNA sequencing and opto-electrophysiology, opto-organ baths with luminal shear forces, and in vivo studies that assayed GI transit while manipulating the physical properties of luminal contents. Results: Piezo2+ EECs have transcriptomic features of synaptically connected, mechanosensory epithelial cells. EEC activation by optogenetics and forces led to Piezo2-dependent alterations in colonic propagating contractions driven by intrinsic circuitry, with Piezo2+ EECs detecting the small luminal forces and physical properties of the luminal contents to regulate transit times in the small and large bowel. Conclusions: The GI tract has intrinsic tactile sensitivity that depends on Piezo2+ EECs and allows it to detect luminal forces and physical properties of luminal contents to modulate physiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-547.e13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Enteroendocrine Cell
  • GI Physiology
  • Ion Channels
  • Mechanosensitivity
  • Neuroepithelial Connection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology


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