Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Solving the puzzle of stem cell division

The central question of developmental biology is how a single fertilized egg can divide repeatedly to produce multiple different cell types. An article in this week's issue of the scientific journal Cell from Jürgen Knoblich's group at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna, Austria sheds fresh light on this key issue.

It had previously been established that asymmetric cell division is extremely important in determining cell fates. Asymmetric cell division occurs when a molecule is inherited by only one of the two cells that arise following cell division (mitosis).

It was established well over a decade ago that in the sensory organ precursor cells (SOP cells) of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster the "Numb" protein is segregated into only one of the two daughter cells. How this takes place, however, has remained a matter of conjecture despite the intense efforts of at least 10 groups worldwide.

Knoblich was one of the scientists involved in the early characterization of the molecules involved in Numb's asymmetric localization and he has continued to study the mechanism from his early post-doc days to the present. Some time ago he and others showed that the protein "Lethal giant larvae" (Lgl) and an atypical protein kinase C (aPKC) were involved but scientists were unable to say how the phosphorylation of Lgl by aPKC affected Numb's localization.

The facilities at the IMBA and the adjoining Institute for Molecular Pathology (IMP) have enabled a wide range of methods to be brought to bear on the problem. Key to Knoblich's work has been a recently developed method for imaging live flies. Knoblich has been studying Numb localization by means of a uniquely multidisciplinary approach, combining live imaging methods with genetics and biochemistry. The kinase AuroraA (Aur-A) was known to be activated at the start of cell division and to be required for Numb activity. Knoblich has now shown that AurA phosphorylates a protein known as Par-6, causing actication of aPKC and thus the phosphoylation of Lgl and its dissociation from the Par complex. When Lgl is no longer bound to the Par complex, a further protein, known as "Bazooka", may bind in its place. AurA activation thus effects a remodelling of the Par complex. As Knoblich further showed, the Par complex can only phosphorylate the Numb protein when Bazooka is present in the complex. Phosphorylated Numb is released from the cortex and because it diffuses only slowly through the cell it is restricted to a crescent on the opposite side.

Knoblich's results have identified a cascade of interactions among the various proteins required for restricting Numb's localization to a cortical crescent on the opposite side of the cell. A similar process was shown to operate in cultured human cells, so it is likely that the molecular mechanism responsible for regulating asymmetric cell division in Drosophila neuroblasts may control self-renewal and prevent tumour formation in other types of stem cell. The present findings are thus likely to have important ramifications in tumour biology. Indeed, mutations in the numb gene have been shown to cause uncontrolled growth of neuroblasts, leading to the formation of brain tumours and a similar phenotype results from expression of a constitutively active form of a PKC. Knoblich now reports that in this latter case the tumourigenic activity is completely removed by overexpressing Numb. The human Numb analogue is known to act as a suppressor of breast cancer, whereas the Lgl homologue has been implicated in metastasis of colon carcinomas (tumours are more aggressive in the absence of Lgl). The potential implications of Knoblich's latest results for human therapy are obvious, although Knoblich stresses that they lie well in the future.

Publication: Frederik Wirtz-Peitz, Takashi Nishimura, and Juergen A. Knoblich: Linking Cell Cycle to Asymmetric Division: Aurora A Phosphorylates the Par Complex to Regulate Numb Localization. Cell, October 3, 2008

F.W.P. was supported by a Ph.D. fellowship of the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds; T.N. is supported by a long-term fellowship of the HFSP; work in J.A.K.'s lab is supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, FWF, WWTF, EU EUROSYSTEMS, and ONCASYM.

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl, IMBA Communications
Tel. +43 1 79730-3625
Mobile: +43 (0)664 8247910
Scientific Contact:
Dr. Jürgen Knoblich

Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

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...

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

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Solid progress in carbon capture

27.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>