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Stowers Scientists Demonstrate Mechanism of Vertebral Formation


Jacqueline Kim Dale, Ph.D., formerly a Senior Research Associate at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and Olivier Pourquié, Ph.D., Stowers Institute Investigator and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have demonstrated that the long-studied family of transcription factors called Snail is expressed in a cyclic fashion during the formation of the vertebral precursors in the mouse and chick embryo.

The findings, which were published in the March 7 issue of Developmental Cell, indicate that the genes governing many cellular properties are downstream of the segmentation clock, the mechanism that controls the formation of the vertebral column.

“We are trying to understand how the periodic formation of the vertebral precursors in the embryo is controlled at the molecular level and how this process is integrated with the overall growth of the embryo,” said Dr. Pourquié.

“These findings are important because they implicate a novel family of transcription factors — the Snail proteins — in the process of embryonic segmentation,” said Robb Krumlauf, Ph.D., Scientific Director. “The findings provide a link between the morphogenesis of the tissue that generates the vertebrae and the periodic production of their precursors.”

The Snail factors which are known to control the transition of the epithelium to a mesenchyme state have been actively studied in cancer, where they are thought to play a role in controling tumor invasion. Understanding their function in embryonic development may provide insight into their dysfunction in cancer.

Additional contributing authors from the Stowers Institute include Pascale Malapert, Lab Manager II; Jérome Chal, Predoctoral Research Associate; Gonçalo Vilhais-Neto, Predoctoral Research Fellow; Miguel Maroto, Ph.D., formerly a Senior Research Associate; Teri Johnson, Managing Director of the Histology Facility; Sachintha Jayasinghe, Cytometry Laboratory Manager I; and Paul Trainor, Ph.D., Assistant Investigator.

About the Stowers Institute
Housed in a 600,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility on a 10-acre campus in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research conducts basic research on fundamental processes of cellular life. Through its commitment to collaborative research and the use of cutting-edge technology, the Institute seeks more effective means of preventing and curing disease. The Institute was founded by Jim and Virginia Stowers, two cancer survivors who have created combined endowments of $2 billion in support of basic research of the highest quality.

For more information about the work of Dr. Pourquié’s team, visit

Marie Jennings | EurekAlert!
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