“Caspases, known as ‘killer enzymes,’ that are activated during programmed cell death, are also active in the initial phases of cell differentiation,” said Dr. Thomas Zwaka, assistant professor in the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center (STaR) at BCM.
Research into embryonic stem cells is basic to understanding differentiation, the process by which some of the earliest cells begin the process of becoming different tissues and organs. Scientists are eager to tap the potential of the pluripotent embryonic stem cells because they have the ability to become almost any kind of cell in the body. That is, however, just one of the possible fates they face. They are also capable of almost infinite self-renewal made possible by an autoregulatory loop including several key transcription factors (e.g., Oct4, Nanog). (Transcription factors bind to DNA to control the transfer of genetic information into RNA.)
The involvement of caspases in differentiation came as a surprise, said Zwaka. However, it makes a certain kind of sense.
“From a more philosophical point of view, programmed cell death (apoptosis) is a specialized form of differentiation,” said Zwaka. (Cells undergo apoptosis or programmed cell death for a variety of reasons – most of them related to keeping organisms or tissues healthy.)
In studies in his laboratory, he and his colleagues at BCM found an “overlap between the pathways that drive cell death and cell differentiation” in a group of enzymes called caspases.
“Caspases trigger differentiation,” he said. “If you remove specific caspases, stem cells have a differentiation defect. When we artificially increase caspase activity, the cells differentiated. When we increased the enzyme activity even more, the cell went into programmed cell death.”
In studying how caspases achieve this activity, he noted that the enzyme is a protease or molecular scissors that cleave or cut proteins at specific points. In particular, they found that caspase cleaves Nanog, one of the transcription factors key to maintaining the embryonic stem cells in their self-renewal state.
“This is a proof of concept study,” said Zwaka. “It shows a strong link between cell death and differentiation pathways. We hope this is a general concept that we can apply in other kinds of stem cells.”
The finding has implications for other kinds of studies. One is that manipulating programmed cell death pathways and caspase targets could help to revert a somatic or already differentiated cell into an embryonic stem cell-like fate. For instance manipulating Nanog at the caspase cleavage site might improve the effectiveness of this technique and enable elimination of the use of viruses, which can contaminate cell lines.
The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences
Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists
07.12.2016 | Duke University
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine