Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Putting MicroRNAs on the Stem Cell Map

11.08.2008
Short snippets of RNA called microRNAs help to keep embryonic stem cells in their stem cell state. Researchers now have discovered the gene circuitry that controls microRNAs in embryonic stem cells. Mapping the control circuitry of stem cells reveals how they maintain themselves or decide to differentiate, providing key clues for regenerative medicine and reprogramming of adult cells to a stem cell state. These maps also aid our understanding of human development and diseases such as cancer.

Embryonic stem cells are always facing a choice—either to self-renew or begin morphing into another type of cell altogether.

It’s a tricky choice, governed by complex gene regulatory circuitry driven by a handful of key regulators known as “master transcription factors,” proteins that switch gene expression on or off.

In the past few years, scientists in the lab of Whitehead Member Richard Young and their colleagues have mapped out key parts of this regulatory circuitry, but the genes that produce the tiny snippets of RNA known as microRNAs have until now been a missing piece of the map. Since microRNAs are a second set of regulators that help to instruct stem cells whether to stay in that state, they play key roles in development.

Young and colleagues have now discovered how microRNAs fit into the map of embryonic stem cell circuitry. With this map, the scientists have moved one step closer to understanding how adult cells can be reprogrammed to an embryonic state and then to other types of cells, and to understanding the role of microRNAs in cancer and other diseases.

“By understanding how master transcription factors turn microRNAs on and off, we now see how these two groups of gene regulators work together to control the state of the cell,” says Young, senior author on the study reported in the August 8 issue of Cell. “MicroRNAs are a special class of molecules because they not only contribute to cellular control but they play important roles in disease states such as cancer.”

Previous studies had shown that the microRNA machinery is important in maintaining embryonic stem cells in their embryonic state, but offered only partial views of how microRNA genes fit in with the overall gene regulation circuitry. To do so required mapping the sites in the genome from which microRNA genes start, explains Stuart Levine, co-lead author on the paper and postdoctoral scientist in Young’s lab.

“Knowing where genes start is essential to understanding their control,” says Levine. “Based on our knowledge of microRNA gene start sites we were able to discover how these genes are controlled by the master transcription factors.”

The researchers first created genome-wide maps of human and mouse embryonic stem cells that pinpoint where transcription factors bind to DNA and launch gene expression. This pinpointed where four master transcription factors (known as Oct4, Sox2, Nanog and Tcf3) were occupying sites where microRNA genes start to be transcribed. They found that the four core transcription factors are interacting with two key sets of microRNA genes. One set of microRNA genes is actively expressed in embryonic stem cells. The other set is silenced in those cells by other gene regulatory proteins known as Polycomb proteins. These proteins repress genes that are key for later development, a role previously described by Young lab researchers and their colleagues.

“We now have a list of what microRNAs are important in embryonic stem cells,” says Alex Marson, co-lead author on the paper and an MD/PhD student in the Young lab. “This gives us clues of which microRNAs you might want to target to direct an embryonic stem cell into another type of cell. For example, you might be able to harness a microRNA to help drive an embryonic stem cell to become a neuron, aiding with neurodegenerative disease or spinal cord injury.”

Moreover, the results give scientists a better platform for analyzing microRNA gene expression in cancer and other diseases. “We and others are finding that the overall gene circuitry for embryonic stem cells and cancer cells is very similar,” notes Marson. “Now that we have connected the circuitry to microRNAs, we can begin to compare microRNAs that are regulated in embryonic stem cells to those in cancer cells.”

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Richard Young’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full citation:
Cell, August 8, 2008 134(5)
“Connecting microRNA Genes to the Core Transcriptional Regulatory Circuitry of Embryonic Stem Cells”

Alexander Marson (1,2,5), Stuart S. Levine (1,5), Megan F. Cole (1,2), Garrett M. Frampton (1,2), Tobias Brambrink (1), Sarah Johnstone (1,2), Matthew G. Guenther (1), Wendy K. Johnston (1,3), Marius Wernig (1), Jamie Newman (1, 2), J.Mauro Calabrese (2, 4), Lucas M. Dennis (1,2), Thomas L. Volkert (1), Sumeet Gupta (1), Jennifer Love (1), Nancy Hannett (1), Phillip A. Sharp (2,4), David P. Bartel (1, 2, 3), Rudolf Jaenisch (1,2), and Richard A. Young (1,2)

1 Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 9 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
2 Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA
02139, USA
3 Howard Hughes Medical Institute
4 Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

5 These authors contributed equally to this work

Cristin Carr | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.wi.mit.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Zap! Graphene is bad news for bacteria
23.05.2017 | Rice University

nachricht Discovery of an alga's 'dictionary of genes' could lead to advances in biofuels, medicine
23.05.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

Im Focus: Bacteria harness the lotus effect to protect themselves

Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties

Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists propose synestia, a new type of planetary object

23.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Zap! Graphene is bad news for bacteria

23.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Medical gamma-ray camera is now palm-sized

23.05.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>