Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Who gives stem cells their marching orders?

Researchers from the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) have shown that a single gene involved in embryonic development is responsible for two seemingly contradictory activities -- maintaining stem cells after the embryo has implanted in the mother’s uterus, and later providing cues to direct their differentiation in a coordinated fashion when the time is ripe.

The development of an embryo from a few seemingly identical stem cells is a truly awesome feat of nature. As they bathe in a chemical soup they’ve manufactured themselves, stem cells react to subtle changes in chemical concentration, moving apart and taking on distinct identities. The million-dollar question: How do these cells – all initially the same, and exposed to the same environment – end up acting in such different ways, and in so orchestrated a manner? Understanding the choreography involved in this mysterious cellular signaling dance is crucial to our ability to coax stem cells to grow into specific tissues outside the body. And it is also important if we are to understand and perhaps correct what goes wrong when the chemical signaling system goes awry and stem cells become cancerous.

Research has shown that the chemical soup in the developing embryo contains a protein factor called Nodal, a powerful “master chef” that controls the activity of a whole host of important regulatory genes. The ISREC group showed that embryos already need Nodal when they attach to the wall of the uterus, to expand their pool of stem cells, and to let individual cells know where they are with respect to their neighbors. However, to carry out these tasks, the Nodal protein must be cleaved by specific enzymes. The enzymes act as a sort of regulatory switch, increasing the stem cells’ production of Nodal and preventing them from differentiating too early. Using mice engineered to carry an altered form of the protein, the ISREC group showed that if this switch is blocked, Nodal has the opposite effect: it triggers a cascade of molecular signals which stimulate differentiation.

In an article appearing in the September issue of the journal Developmental Cell, the researchers explain how cleaved and uncleaved forms of the Nodal protein act together to let the stem cells know where to move and what to become, once the embryo has reached a critical size. “Whole blocks of chemical “programs” are triggered in a cascading fashion, with Nodal there to maintain the source of a concentration gradient,” explains EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) professor Daniel Constam, lead researcher on the paper. Constam adds that cells respond differently depending on the amount of time they have been exposed to the Nodal signal.

... more about:
»Chemical »Constam »Embryonic »Nodal

One hallmark of aggressive cancer cells is their unspecified nature, similar to that of embryonic stem cells. Constam and his colleagues think that the signaling pathways used by tumor cells to migrate and invade new territory might be similar to those used in the embryonic development of the organism. Recent research from Northwestern University seems to confirm this, showing that aggressive melanoma cells secrete the Nodal protein. Understanding the activity of this gene in embryonic development may hold the key to finding a way to control its activity in tumor cells. “We need to separate the aspects of Nodal function, and how this protein is regulated by the cell at the molecular level,” says Constam. “The embryo holds the key to this understanding.”

Author Contact: Daniel Constam
+41 21 692 5820

Mary Parlange | alfa
Further information:

Further reports about: Chemical Constam Embryonic Nodal

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders
24.10.2016 | Baylor College of Medicine

nachricht New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground
24.10.2016 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries

24.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>