Human ES cells progress slowly in myelin's direction

Apr 09, 2009

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin, USA, report in the journal Development the successful generation from human embryonic stem cells of a type of cell that can make myelin, a finding that opens up new possibilities for both basic and clinical research.

The cells the researchers made are called oligodendrocytes, which are responsible for making myelin in the central nervous system. Myelin forms an insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibres, both protecting them and speeding up the transmission of . Its loss or damage has serious consequences, as is seen in the condition of , because without it nerves lose the ability to transmit impulses to each other and to function properly.

Unlike human embryonic stem (ES) cells, it's relatively easy to persuade mouse ES cells to turn into oligodendrocytes; it's often done by exposing these cells to a protein called , which produces oligodendrocytes in the of developing embryos. Now Su-Chun Zhang and his co-workers show in the May issue of Development that treating human ES cells with this same protein also turns them into oligodendrocytes - they just take longer to do it, 14 weeks as opposed to the 2 weeks taken by mouse ES cells. They also report another difference between mouse and human ES cells: a growth factor called Fgf2 that promotes oligodendrocyte development in mouse ES cells actually stalls it in human ES cells.

As Dr Zhang reveals, these findings were quite unexpected. 'This was quite a surprise given that this is exactly how we direct mouse ES cells to become oligodendrocytes. But we have discovered an unexpected twist in the cell's response to the same external factor', explained Dr Zhang. 'It nevertheless explains why so many research groups have failed to persuade human to become oligodendrocytes for the past decade.'

As Dr Zhang went on to discuss, these findings are also of clinical importance. 'We are now able to generate a relatively enriched population of oligodendrocyte precursor cells that may be used to repair lost myelin sheaths. These findings also raise awareness of the direct translatability of animal studies to human biology. In this regard, the human oligodendrocytes generated from human ES cells or the generation of disease-induced pluripotent stem cells can provide a useful tool in the future for screening pharmaceuticals directly on human cells.'

More information: dev.biologists.org

Source: The Company of Biologists

Explore further: Scientists create mouse model to accelerate research on Ebola vaccines, treatments

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Stem cells used to reverse paralysis in animals

Jan 28, 2009

A new study has found that transplantation of stem cells from the lining of the spinal cord, called ependymal stem cells, reverses paralysis associated with spinal cord injuries in laboratory tests. The findings show that ...

Recommended for you

Researchers capture picture of microRNA in action

23 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

Oct 30, 2014

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

Oct 30, 2014

(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

Oct 30, 2014

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.