Stem cell study could pave the way to treatment for age-related muscle wasting

May 17, 2011

A team led by developmental biologist Professor Christophe Marcelle has nailed the mechanism that causes stem cells in the embryo to differentiate into specialised cells that form the skeletal muscles of animals' bodies. The scientists published their results in the British journal Nature on Monday (May 16).

Scientists world wide are racing to pin down the complex that cause in the early embryo to differentiate into specialist cells such as muscle or nerve cells. The field has the potential to revolutionise medicine by delivering therapies to regenerate tissue damaged by disease or injury.

Differentiation happens soon after , when are dividing rapidly and migrating as the animal's body takes shape.

Professor Marcelle's team analysed the differentiation of muscle stem cells in chicken embryos. The mechanisms in birds are identical to those in mammals, so the chick is a good model species for understanding the mechanisms in humans, says team member and the paper's lead author, Anne Rios.

The scientists investigated the effect of a known signalling pathway called NOTCH on muscle differentiation. They 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 . 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," Ms Rios said.

Professor Marcelle said that more than 2 per cent of the population was affected by muscle dysfunction. "Muscle frailty in ageing and disease imposes a huge economic burden, so it is critical to explore novel avenues of research that could lead to new treatments," he said.

He said the team would now focus on unravelling the mechanisms of embryonic muscle cell differentiation at the molecular level as a necessary step to regulating regeneration of the muscles in human patients.

Explore further: New study hopeful on neural stem cells

Related Stories

New study hopeful on neural stem cells

August 5, 2006

Neural stem cells derived from federally approved human embryonic cells are inferior to stem cells derived from donated fetal tissue, a new study found.

Heart derived stem cells develop into heart muscle

April 23, 2008

Dutch researchers at University Medical Center Utrecht and the Hubrecht Institute have succeeded in growing large numbers of stem cells from adult human hearts into new heart muscle cells. A breakthrough in stem cell research. ...

Team identifies stem cells that repair injured muscles

March 5, 2009

A University of Colorado at Boulder research team has identified a type of skeletal muscle stem cell that contributes to the repair of damaged muscles in mice, which could have important implications in the treatment of injured, ...

Stem cell surprise for tissue regeneration (w/ Podcast)

June 25, 2009

Scientists working at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Embryology, with colleagues, have overturned previous research that identified critical genes for making muscle stem cells. It turns out that the genes that make ...

Recommended for you

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.