Scientists identify "naïve-like" human stem cell

October 16, 2014 by Vicky Just
Scientists make stem cell discovery
Naive-like stem cells could potentially be used to treat dementia or reduce organ transplants

Scientists from our university and Berlin have identified a type of human stem cell that appears to be "naïve-like" – able to develop into any type of cell. The discovery of this cell type could potentially have a large impact on our understanding of how humans develop and on the field of regenerative medicine.

The human (ESCs) that scientists currently study in the lab are able to develop into several different types of cell but are already pre-determined to some extent.

Published in the top scientific journal Nature, researchers from the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine (MDC), Berlin, Germany and our university have for the first time discovered human ESCs that appear to behave like "naïve" cells – able to develop into any type of cell.

These naïve-like cells, only previously found in mice, are easy to grow in the lab and could have huge potential for regenerating damaged tissues in the body, potentially leading to treatments for diseases such as dementia or reducing the need for .

Professor Laurence Hurst from our Department of Biology & Biochemistry and a co-author of the study explained: "Most stem cells are primed to some extent to become a certain type of cell. If you use the analogy of a train network, these cells are like one of the main London stations. Trains from Paddington can go to Cardiff or Exeter, but not to Norwich. In the same way, these cells can develop into a fixed number of different cell types.

"However the naïve-like cells we've identified are like a central terminus; they are present earlier in the embryo's development and so we think their fates can go in any direction and become any type of cell."

Co-investigator Dr Zsuzsanna Izsvák, (MDC, corresponding author) said: "We were very excited by this discovery – it was one of those Eureka moments that rarely happens in science."

The Bath and Berlin team found the naïve-like cells by looking at which genes were expressed in very early human embryos. They pinpointed a virus called human endogenous retrovirus H (HERVH) that has become integrated into human DNA and was very highly expressed at just the right time and place in , where they would expect to see naïve-like cells if they existed.

They identified a protein called LBP9, which is essential for the activity of HERVH in early embryos. Using a reporter system that made cells expressing HERVH via LBP9 glow green, the Berlin and our team found that they had purified cells that showed all of the hallmarks of a mouse naïve cell.

Jichang Wang (PhD student from MDC), first author of the Nature publication said: "Our human naïve-like cells look remarkably like the mouse ones, and express the same sorts of genes as the human inner cell mass (ICM) in the embryo, just as expected of naïve cells."

However, although, these cells are highly similar to naïve mouse embryonic , they have features that are unique to humans.

"As an evolutionary biologist, this is the aspect I find most curious," commented Professor Hurst. "One would expect that a mechanism as important as pluripotency would be conserved in different species of mammals," he pointed out.

Explore further: New cell line should accelerate embryonic stem cell research

Related Stories

Stem cell discovery challenges dogma on how fetus develops

October 14, 2014

A Mount Sinai-led research team has discovered a new kind of stem cell that can become either a liver cell or a cell that lines liver blood vessels, according to a study published today in the journal Stem Cell Reports. The ...

New memory for HIV patients

March 26, 2012

The hallmark loss of helper CD4+ T cells during human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection may be a red herring for therapeutics, according to a study published on March 26th in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Scientists isolate new human pluripotent stem cells

October 31, 2013

One of the obstacles to employing human embryonic stem cells for medical use lies in their very promise: They are born to rapidly differentiate into other cell types. Until now, scientists have not been able to efficiently ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how giraffe assassin bugs outwit spider prey

October 26, 2016

(—A biologist at Macquarie University in Australia has discovered the secret behind the giraffe assassin's ability to catch and kill spiders in their webs. In his paper published on the open access site Royal Society ...

New analysis of big data sheds light on cell functions

October 26, 2016

Researchers have developed a new way of obtaining useful information from big data in biology to better understand—and predict—what goes on inside a cell. Using genome-scale models, researchers were able to integrate ...


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.