The four cell types of gut epithelium, enteroendocrine cells, enterocytes, Paneth cells and goblet cells, arise from a common totipotent stem cell located in the mid portion of the intestinal gland. The secretin-producing (S) cell is one of at least ten cell types belonging to the diffuse neuroendocrine system of the gut. We have examined the developmental relationship between secretin cells and other enteroendocrine cell types by conditional ablation of secretin cells in transgenic mice expressing herpes simplex virus 1 thymidine kinase (HSVTK). Ganciclovir-treated mice showed markedly increased numbers of apoptotic cells at the crypt-villus junction. Unexpectedly, ganciclovir treatment induced nearly complete ablation of enteroendocrine cells expressing cholecystokinin and peptide YY/glucagon (L cells) as well as secretin cells, suggesting a close developmental relationship between these three cell types. In addition, ganciclovir reduced the number of enteroendocrine cells producing gastric inhibitory polypeptide, substance-P, somatostatin and serotonin. During recovery from ganciclovir treatment, the enteroendocrine cells repopulated the intestine in normal numbers, suggesting that a common early endocrine progenitor was spared. Expression of BETA2, a basic helix-loop-helix protein essential for differentiation of secretin and cholecystokinin cells was examined in the proximal small intestine. BETA2 expression was seen in all enteroendocrine cells and not seen in nonendocrine cells. These results suggest that most small intestinal endocrine cells are developmentally related and that a close developmental relationship exists between secretin-producing S cells and cholecystokinin-producing and L type enteroendocrine cells. In addition, our work shows the existence of a multipotent endocrine-committed cell type and locates this hybrid multipotent cell type to a region of the intestine populated by relatively immature cells.