Researchers at BRIC, University of Copenhagen, have identified new gene family essential for embryonic development. The family controls the expression of genes crucial for stem cell differentiation, and the results may contribute significantly to the understanding of cancer development.
The results are published in Nature, and it follows up on two other high-impact articles on related gene families published in Nature and Cell by the same researchers within the last year.
How embryonic stem cells work All organisms consist of a number of different cell types each produc-ing different proteins. The nerve cells produce proteins necessary for the nerve cell function; the muscle cells proteins necessary for the muscle function and so on.
All these specialised cells originate from the same cell type - the embryonic stem cells. In a highly controlled process called differentiation, the stem cells are induced to become specialised cells.
Gene family helps regulate stem cell differentiation The BRIC researchers have now identified a new gene family, which by modifying gene expression is essential for the regulation of the differentiation process. These results have been obtained by using both human and mouse stem cells, as well as by studying the devel-opment of the round worm, C. elegans.
Perspectives The new findings are in line with a number of recent publications that support the idea that differentiation may not entirely be a "one-way process", and may have impact on the therapeutic use of stem cells for the treatment of various genetic diseases such as cancer and Alz-heimers disease.