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.
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.
More articles from Life Sciences:
Molecular snapshot of the plant immune system’s signal box
11.12.2013 | Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Köln
Successful Teamwork: Unusual fungal metabolites with antitumor activity discovered by crowdsourcing
11.12.2013 | Angewandte Chemie International Edition
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
11.12.2013 | Information Technology
11.12.2013 | Life Sciences
11.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News