The intestinal mucus layer, an important element of epithelial protection, is produced by goblet cells. Intestinal goblet cells are assumed to be a homogeneous cell type. In this study, however, we delineated their specific gene and protein expression profiles and identified several distinct goblet cell populations that form two differentiation trajectories. One distinct subtype, the intercrypt goblet cells (icGCs), located at the colonic luminal surface, produced mucus with properties that differed from the mucus secreted by crypt-residing goblet cells. Mice with defective icGCs had increased sensitivity to chemically induced colitis and manifested spontaneous colitis with age. Furthermore, alterations in mucus and reduced numbers of icGCs were observed in patients with both active and remissive ulcerative colitis, which highlights the importance of icGCs in maintaining functional protection of the epithelium.
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