Researchers discover key to cell specialization

Nov 10, 2011

Researchers at then Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have uncovered a mechanism that governs how cells become specialized during development. Their findings could have implications for human health and disease and appear in the November 10 online edition of the journal Cell.

A fundamental question in biology is how a fertilized egg gives rise to many different cells in the body, such as nerve, blood and . By providing insight into that process, known as differentiation, the findings by the Einstein researchers are relevant to cancer, and regenerative medicine.

The scientists studied in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. They found that cell specialization depends on a pair of proteins that act as super regulators of proteins that were already known—one super-regulating protein encouraging a cell to differentiate and the other trying to hold back the process.

The research was conducted by senior author Nicholas Baker, Ph.D., professor of genetics, of developmental and molecular biology, and of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Einstein, and graduate student Abhishek Bhattacharya, the paper's lead author. They studied Helix-Loop-Helix proteins, "master-regulating" proteins that were known to play a role in the differentiation of fruit fly cells such as muscle, fat and nervous-system cells. By examining eye development in the fruit fly, they found that these master-regulating Helix-Loop-Helix proteins are in turn controlled by "super-regulating" proteins that bind with them.

Successful cell differentiation requires the presence of both master-regulating and super-regulating proteins. "If you don't turn both of those keys, cell differentiation doesn't work properly," said Dr. Baker.

One of these super-regulating proteins, called E-protein Daughterless (Da), binds with Helix-Loop-Helix proteins to activate them. Da also triggers expression of a called Extramacrochaetae (Emc), which turns the Helix-Loop-Helix proteins off. Through this feedback-loop mechanism, Da and Emc allow Helix-Loop-Helix proteins to function during specific times during fruit-fly development to create the fly's specialized cells.

Similar findings seem to apply to the Helix-Loop-Helix proteins that are present in human cells, where they are involved in cancer as well as in the differentiation of stem into specialized tissues. "We would expect that there will be people in the stem cell field that would be quite interested in what we have found," Dr. Baker said.

Explore further: For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

More information: The paper is titled "A network of broadly-expressed HLH genes regulates tissue-specific cell fates."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How stem cells are regulated

Feb 22, 2007

Researchers from Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at University of Copenhagen have identified a new group of proteins that regulate the function of stem cells. The results are published in the new issue of Cell.

Ronin an alternate control for embryonic stem cells

Jun 26, 2008

Like the masterless samurai for whom it is named, the protein Ronin chooses an independent path, maintaining embryonic stem cells in their undifferentiated state and playing essential roles in genesis of embryos and their ...

Recommended for you

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

11 hours ago

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Adventurous bacteria

12 hours ago

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

14 hours ago

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

New clinical trial launched for advance lung cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines ...

'Chief Yahoo' David Filo returns to board

Yahoo announced the nomination of three new board members, including company co-founder David Filo, who earned the nickname and formal job title of "Chief Yahoo."