1. The efficient repair of gastrointestinal mucosal injuries is essential in the preservation of the epithelial barrier to luminal antigens. Accumulated evidence suggests that epithelial migration plays a major part in this repair by rapidly resealing defects induced by both physiological and pathological insults, a process termed restitution.
2. This migration has been modelled in various ways, most commonly in mechanically wounded monolayers of cell lines or cells in primary culture, and in wounded human or animal tissue. Evidence from these models indicates that migration is a highly complex process, which is likely to involve the tightly controlled spatial and temporal interaction of multiple factors: (i) extracellular molecules such as soluble factors (e.g. growth factors, trefoil peptides, cytokines) and matrix components (e.g. collagen, laminin, fibronectin); (ii) signalling molecules activated by the interaction of these factors with cell surface receptors (e.g. protein kinases, phospholipases, low-molecular-weight GTPases); (iii) factors which regulate adhesion to other cells (e.g. E-cadherin) and to matrix components (e.g. integrins, hyaluronic acid receptors); (iv) factors which regulate detachment from the extracellular matrix (e.g. urokinase-type plasminogen activator, matrix metalloproteinases); and (iv) molecules which regulate cytoskeletal function (e.g. Rac), which allows the formation of specialized cellular processes termed lamellipodia.
3. The identification of physiologically relevant factors that stimulate epithelial cell migration, and a better understanding of their mechanism of action, may be beneficial in the development of novel therapeutic approaches in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease through the pharmacological or dietary enhancement of this migration.