Scientists made fundamental discovery about how properties of embryonic stem cells controlled

May 02, 2013

The study, which focuses on the process by which these cells renew and increase in number, could help research to find new treatments.

Researchers have found that a protein, which switches on to allow to self-renew, works better when the natural occurring level of the protein is reduced.

It was previously thought that once levels of this protein – called Oct 4 – were reduced the numbers of new stem cells being produced would also fall.

The finding will inform , which is looking to find treatments for conditions including Parkinson's, motor neurone, liver and .

During , cells that have the capacity to become any cell type in the body – called – can either renew themselves by multiplying in number or differentiate to become cells found in different parts of the body, for instance skin or liver.

This need for to increase in number is important so that there is a sufficient supply of them to be differentiated into other cell types.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh found that when there were lower levels of Oct 4, the protein bound much more tightly to key parts of DNA in cells.

The strong attraction of Oct 4 to these sections of DNA enabled the efficient switching on of key genes that caused pluripotent stem cells to renew.

The findings could help to improve the way in which stem cells are cultured in the laboratory, providing a better understanding of the processes needed for cells to divide and multiply or to generate different cell types.

The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Programme

Professor Ian Chambers, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University, who led the study, said: "What we found was a complete surprise, as we thought that when levels of this key protein were reduced the numbers of pluripotent stem cells being generated would also fall. Instead, it appears that when the levels of Oct 4 are lower, the balance is tipped in favour of self-renewal over stem cell differentiation."

Explore further: Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

Related Stories

New way to weed out problem stem cells, making therapy safer

Sep 27, 2012

Mayo Clinic researchers have found a way to detect and eliminate potentially troublemaking stem cells to make stem cell therapy safer. Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, also known as iPS cells, are bioengineered from adult ...

Stem cells know where they want to go

Jul 07, 2011

Human stem cells have the ability to become any cell type in the human body, but when it comes to their destination they know where they want to go.

Recommended for you

Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

11 hours ago

Biologists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have described the atomic-level workings of "microRNA" molecules, which control the expression of genes in all animals and plants.

Blocking a fork in the road to DNA replication

13 hours ago

A team of Whitehead Institute scientists has discovered the surprising manner in which an enigmatic protein known as SUUR acts to control gene copy number during DNA replication. It's a finding that could shed new light on ...

Cell division, minus the cells

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The process of cell division is central to life. The last stage, when two daughter cells split from each other, has fascinated scientists since the dawn of cell biology in the Victorian era. ...

A new method simplifies the analysis of RNA structure

16 hours ago

To understand the function of an RNA molecule, similar to the better-known DNA and vital for cell metabolism, we need to know its three-dimensional structure. Unfortunately, establishing the shape of an RNA ...

User comments : 0

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.