Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Epigenetic regulation of a genetic gatekeeper, Elf5, provides new insights into cell fate at a developmental crossroad

04.11.2008
Scientists at the Babraham Institute and the Centre for Trophoblast Research in Cambridge have established that a gene, known as Elf5, plays a critical role in early development using elegant epigenetic mechanisms to keep placental and embryonic cells apart.

The findings, reported in November’s Nature Cell Biology, provide new insights into the developmental decisions that are made after fertilisation, to ensure that cells either become committed to forming the placenta or the embryo.

Epigenetic control mechanisms are at the heart of this, orchestrating the formation of many different tissues and organs from a fertilised egg, and ensuring that once certain developmental decisions are made, cell fate is normally irreversible. The discovery of the ability to reverse cell fate through epigenetic regulation of Elf5 offers new insights into regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy.

Cell differentiation is usually a one-way process, starting from a precursor cell that initially has the potential to follow various differentiation pathways, getting increasingly specialised in function until its ‘cell fate’ is realised and it becomes a particular cell type, such as a nerve or muscle cell, a process called terminal differentiation.

The fertilised embryo possesses the greatest plasticity; it is totipotent and can differentiate into all cell types of the foetus as well as the placenta. One of the first definitive divergences in cell differentiation pathways is the point where cells that will form the placenta are set aside from those that will form the foetus. Once this decision has been made, it was thought that there is no turning back or crossover between future placental and embryonic cells. How this strict lineage separation is achieved, however, has remained elusive.

Since all cells in an individual contain the same genetic material, but behave differently depending on which organs eventually comprise, an elaborate mechanism has evolved to fine tune our genes and their expression in different places at different times, leading to the amazing complexity we see in humans despite the relatively small number of unique genes. This process involves specific chemical modifications to the DNA, such as methylation, which modify the structure of the DNA but not its sequence, and regulate gene function. A failure of these epigenetic control mechanisms is linked to a number of human genetic diseases, psychiatric disorders and ageing as well as contributing to some pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia. Babraham scientists recently reported that these epigenetic mechanisms can be traced to the divergence of placental mammals and marsupials from the curious egg-laying monotremes, notably the platypus, 150 million years ago.

These ‘epigenetic marks’ are able to impose, and lock in, future cell fate in either placental cell populations or those that embark upon embryonic development. This paper reports on the identification of such an epigenetic restriction of cell lineage fate, directed on a particular gene to keep placental and embryonic cells apart. Elf5 has been identified as the key gene determining cell fate at the gateway of placental versus embryo development.

“The DNA sequence of the gene Elf5 is modified by a methylation mark in future populations of embryonic cells ensuring that the gene is kept in a stable ‘off’ state. In contrast the sequence is not modified in placental cells; the gene is ‘on’ and reinforces placental cell fate. We demonstrated that by removing the methylation mark in embryonic cells, we could convert these normally committed embryonic cells into cells with placental characteristics”, said Dr Myriam Hemberger.

"This is really the first molecular example of an epigenetic restriction of lineage fate. Elf5 really sits at the junction of lineage divergence between the embryonic and trophoblast lineages in early development."

This work has provided new insights into the apparent irreversibility of cell fate and how cell fate is normally locked in to achieve stable differentiation. This is of particular importance for strategies in regenerative medicine that aim to generate a specific cell type from multi- or pluripotent stem cells and to prevent its de-differentiation, a process that bears the risk of tumour formation. Ultimately, these results may pave the way for differentiated cells to be specifically instructed to generate other essential cell types for therapeutic use. This knowledge will open up new possibilities into research of pregnancy complications that have a specific placental origin.

This work was supported by an MRC Career Development fellowship to Dr Hemberger, a Croucher Foundation Fellowship to Dr Ng, by BBSRC, MRC, EU NoE The Epigenome, CellCentric, and DIUS.

Claire Cockcroft | alfa
Further information:
http://www.babraham.ac.uk
http://www.trophoblast.cam.ac.uk/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht 127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>