Embryonic stem cells have the potential to make all 200 cell types in the body. The challenge is to restrain this diversity and uncover the signals that commit stem cells to a single specialised function. Sally Lowell and her colleagues have now established that Notch gives embryonic stem cells the critical push towards becoming cells of the nervous system.
When Notch is activated in embryonic stem cells, most turn into nerve cells (green)
When Notch is switched off, most cells remain as embryonic stem cells (pink)
The researchers show that when Notch is activated in embryonic stem cells, up to 90% of the cells in the dish become nerve cells. In any colony of embryonic stem cells, under normal conditions, many never become cells of the nervous system: they spontaneously change into other cell types or remain as embryonic stem cells.
The Notch effect can be observed in both mouse and human embryonic stem cells, and can be created without any recourse to genetic engineering - all it takes is the presence of Notch activating signals in the cells that stem cells grow on.
As individual embryonic stem cells become specialised, they communicate with those around them. Notch is a major means of communication, and has, according to Dr Lowell, “a domino effect: once it is switched on in a small group of cells, it sets off a wave of Notch activation in neighbouring cells, directing them all to become cells of the nervous system.”
This research has far-reaching implications for other aspects of stem cell research. Dr Lowell adds, “We expect our findings to shed light on how to make other types of cell, such as muscle or pancreatic cells. If we can identify the processes that Notch blocks in embryonic stem cells we will have a handle on how to get them started, and so drive embryonic stem cells to become other types of cell that are more difficult to grow in the lab”.
Says Professor Austin Smith, leading the Edinburgh team and coordinating the EuroStemCell consortium, “This discovery gives us another method to generate pure populations of nerve cells – so important for drug screening, disease modelling and potential cell therapies. As in stem cell colonies, communication between EuroStemCell researchers has been crucial to this discovery. Our work would not have been possible without information and materials from colleagues in Cambridge, Paris and Stockholm.”
This research was supported by EuroStemCell, the BBSRC, the MRC and The Wellcome Trust.
Ana Coutinho | alfa
Cells communicate in a dynamic code
19.02.2018 | California Institute of Technology
Studying mitosis' structure to understand the inside of cancer cells
19.02.2018 | Biophysical Society
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.02.2018 | Life Sciences