In rodents, there is a surge of intestinal expression of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein α (C/EBPα) in the late fetal phase just before morphological maturation and the onset of expression of numerous epithelial genes. To investigate directly the hypothesis that C/EBPα plays a causal role in the latter phenomena, we have assessed both structural and functional maturation in neonatal intestine from C/EBPα-null mice and their littermates. No effects of C/EBPα genotype were observed on mucosal architecture or on the size of the proliferative zone in the intestinal crypts. Likewise, the mRNA levels for the glucose transporter 2 (GLUT2), intestinal and liver fatty acid-binding proteins, and apolipoprotein A-IV in newborn intestine were similar in all genotypes. Paradoxically, Na+/glucose co-transporter (SGLT1), lactase phlorizin-hydrolase and apolipoprotein B mRNAs were more abundant in the C/EBPα-deficient animals. In wild-type intestines, C/EBPβ and C/EBPΔ mRNAs were detectable throughout the late fetal period and increased toward term in parallel with C/EBPα mRNA. In newborn intestine, there was no compensatory up-regulation of these isoforms in the C/EBPα-deficient mice. We conclude that C/EBPα has no essential role in morphological maturation of the intestine, the pattern of proliferation of the epithelium, or the onset of expression of this cluster of epithelial mRNAs. However, since other C/EBP isoforms are present in the developing intestine, it is possible that there is a generic requirement for a member of the C/EBP family.

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