A protein biomarker confirms the presence of stem cells that maintain ovaries

January 6, 2016, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
A protein biomarker confirms the presence of stem cells that maintain ovaries
Cells of the ovary stained according to which proteins are found within them. Credit: Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature Cell Biology, Ref 1, copyright 2014

Stem cell activity in the outer lining of the ovary, now identified in mice by A*STAR researchers, will elucidate normal ovarian activity and offer insights into the origins of disease.

Ovarian cancer kills more than 150,000 women globally each year, but the molecular and cellular events behind it remain unclear. "We need to understand the normal cell biology of the ovary before we can begin to understand what goes wrong during cancer, for example," says Nick Barker of the A*STAR team.

At the A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology, Barker and his team studied the regeneration and repair of the surface cell layer—the epithelium—of the ovary and fallopian tube, along with collaborators at the National University of Singapore. During ovulation this crucial layer of cells undergoes repeated cycles of tearing and subsequent repair (see image). Little is known, however, about the molecular mechanism of the tissue renewal process, or how it is disrupted during disease.

Resident drive such tissue maintenance activities in many epithelial layers throughout the body, explains Barker, but similar stem cells have never been proven to exist in the ovary.

Previous work by Barker and his colleagues had shown that a cell-surface receptor protein, known as Lgr5, acts as a marker identifying stem cells in various epithelial layers, including those of the intestine, stomach and kidney.

The most recent work has identified the protein on cells of the ovaries and fallopian tubes of mice which confirms the presence and activity of resident stem cells that can maintain the ovarian epithelium.

"This will give scientists the ability to decipher the biology of these stem cells in normal healthy tissue," comments Barker. He explains that mutations in stem cells are likely to be a major cause of cancers of the ovarian epithelium. This is highly probable, he says, given that the Lgr5-bearing stem cells identified by his previous work are a major source of epithelial cancers of the stomach and intestine.

Next Barker and his team plan to create targeted mutations in specific genes and analyze the possible role of these mutations in . They also hope to build on the work with mice by purifying and growing human ovarian stem cells and epithelia in culture, providing insights that will be directly relevant to medical applications.

"This basic research is a prerequisite for eventually being able to develop more targeted and more effective therapies to treat ovarian disease," says Barker.

Explore further: New culture model makes fallopian tube accessible

More information: Annie Ng et al. Lgr5 marks stem/progenitor cells in ovary and tubal epithelia, Nature Cell Biology (2014). DOI: 10.1038/ncb3000

Related Stories

New culture model makes fallopian tube accessible

December 11, 2015

A new way of growing fallopian tube cells in culture is expected to give a boost to our understanding and prevention of female gynecological diseases, such as infertility, inflammatory disease, and ovarian cancer. The tubes, ...

Origin of aggressive ovarian cancer discovered

March 6, 2013

Cornell University researchers have discovered a likely origin of epithelial ovarian cancer (ovarian carcinoma), the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States.

Scientists make breakthroughs in ovarian cancer research

August 8, 2014

Scientists at A*STAR's Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) and the Bioinformatics Institute (BII) have found new clues to early detection and personalised treatment of ovarian cancer, currently one of the most difficult cancers ...

Attacking bowel cancer on two fronts

March 31, 2011

Stem cells in the intestine, which when they mutate can lead to bowel cancers, might also be grown into transplant tissues to combat the effects of those same cancers, the UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN) annual science ...

Ovarian cancer arises in fallopian tube of knockout mice

February 13, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- The most deadly form of "ovarian" cancer arises in the fallopian tubes – not the ovaries – of knockout mice that lack two genes associated with the disease, said researchers led by Baylor College ...

Recommended for you


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.