Fully mature B cells can be converted into embryonic stem cells without the use of an egg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have revealed.
Published in the journal Cell, the study saw scientists reprogramming fully differentiated mouse cells to embryonic-stem-cell-like induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells.
B cells are immune cells that can bind to specific antigens, such as proteins from bacteria, viruses or microorganisms. Unlike fibroblasts, mature B cells have a specific part of their DNA cut out as a final maturation step.
"Once that piece of DNA is cut out, it can't come back. Checking the genome give us a way to make sure the resulting IPS cells were not from immature cells," says first author of the study Jacob Hanna, a postdoctoral fellow in Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch's lab where the study was carried out.
The researchers began the experiment by generating IPS cells from immature B cells, for which they relied on a process similar to the one they used to create IPS cells from fibroblast cells in their previous research.
They say that reprogrammed mature B cells may enable them to create mouse models that will aid in understanding autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Jaenisch, a professor of biology, believes that scientists will eventually be able to study diseases by following a similar process with human cells.
"In principle, this will allow you to transfer a complex genetic human disease into a Petri dish, and study it. That could be the first step to analyze the disease and to define a therapy," he says.