The intestine has fundamental functions for the maintenance of homeostasis, including food digestion and nutrient/water absorption. Although the lumen of the intestine is always exposed to pathogens, intestinal epithelial cells form monolayer sheets that act as an epithelial barrier to prevent the invasion of pathogens. Thus, disruption of the intestinal epithelial barrier causes inflammatory bowel diseases. To investigate the details of these intractable intestinal diseases, it is necessary to analyze the characteristics of intestinal epithelial cells in vitro. However, it is difficult to maintain and propagate intestinal epithelial cells in culture. Recently, intestinal organoid culture systems have been established, in which differentiated intestinal epithelial lineage cells can be continuously produced from intestinal stem cells and form epithelial organoids with crypt-like structures in long-term culture. Moreover, intestinal epithelial organoids can be generated not only from intestinal tissue-derived cells, embryonic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells, but also by inducing direct conversion of nonintestinal somatic cells into intestinal epithelial cells. These intestinal organoids can be used in basic studies for understanding the mechanisms underlying intestinal development and diseases and will be applied in future transplantation therapy and drug discovery to treat intestinal diseases.
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