Stem cell treatment may pave way to treating age-related muscle wasting, say scientists.
They have identified a mechanism, which causes stem cells in the embryo to differentiate into specialised cells that form the skeletal muscles of animals' bodies.
The finding by developmental biologist Prof. Christophe Marcelle has the potential to revolutionise medicine by delivering therapies to regenerate tissue damaged by disease or injury.
Marcelle's team analysed the differentiation of muscle stem cells in chicken embryos, which share an identical mechanism as that in mammals.
They investigated the effect of a known signalling pathway called NOTCH on muscle differentiation, and found that differentiation of stem cells to muscle was initiated when NOTCH signalling proteins touched some of the cells.
These proteins were carried by passing cells migrating from a different tissue, the neural crest- the progenitor tissue of sensory nerve cells.
Muscle formation in the target stem cells occurred only when the NOTCH pathway was triggered briefly by the migrating neural crest cells.
"This kiss-and-run activation of a pathway is a completely novel mechanism of stem cell specification which explains why only some stem cells adopt a muscle cell fate," said Ms Rios, a team member.
The study appears in the current issue of British journal Nature.