Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Planarian genes that control stem cell biology identified

02.03.2012
FINDINGS: Devising a novel method to identify potential genetic regulators in planarian stem cells, Whitehead Institute scientists have determined which of those genes affect the two main functions of stem cells.

Three of the genes are particularly intriguing because they code for proteins similar to those known to regulate mammalian embryonic stem cells. Such genetic similarity makes planarians an even more attractive model for studying stem cell biology in vivo.

RELEVANCE: Stem cells may hold the promise to regrow damaged, diseased, or missing tissues in humans, such as insulin-producing cells for diabetics and nerve cells for patients with spinal cord injuries. With its renowned powers of regeneration and more than half of its genes having human homologs, the planarian seems like a logical choice for studying stem cell behavior. Yet, until now, scientists have been unable to efficiently identify the genes that regulate the planarian stem cell system.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Despite their unassuming appearance, the planarian flatworms in Whitehead Institute Member Peter Reddien's lab are revealing powerful new insights into the biology of stem cells—insights that may eventually help such cells deliver on a promising role in regenerative medicine.

In this week's issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell, Reddien and scientists in his lab report on their development of a novel approach to identify and study the genes that control stem cell behavior in planarians. Intriguingly, at least one class of these genes has a counterpart in human embryonic stem cells.

"This is a huge step forward in establishing planarians as an in vivo system for which the roles of stem cell regulators can be dissected," says Reddien, who is also an associate professor of biology at MIT and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Early Career Scientist. "In the grand scheme of things for understanding stem cell biology, I think this is a beginning foray into seeking general principles that all animals utilize. I'd say we're at the beginning of that process."

Planarians (Schmidtea mediterranea) are tiny freshwater flatworms with the ability to reproduce through fission. After literally tearing themselves in half, the worms use stem cells, called cNeoblasts, to regrow any missing tissues and organs, ultimately forming two complete planarians in about a week.

Unlike muscle, nerve, or skin cells that are fully differentiated, certain stem cells, such as cNeoblasts and embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, having the ability to become almost cell type in the body. Researchers have long been interested in harnessing this capability to regrow damaged, diseased, or missing tissues in humans, such as insulin-producing cells for diabetics or nerve cells for patients with spinal cord injuries.

Several problems currently confound the therapeutic use of stem cells, including getting the stem cells to differentiate into the desired cell type in the appropriate location and having such cells successfully integrate with surrounding tissues, all without forming tumors. To solve these issues, researchers need a better understanding of how stem cells tick at the molecular level, particularly within the environment of a living organism. To date, a considerable amount of embryonic stem cell research has been conducted in the highly artificial environment of the Petri dish.

With its renowned powers of regeneration and more than half of its genes having human homologs, the planarian seems like a logical choice for this line of research. Yet, until now, scientists have been unable to efficiently find the genes that regulate the planarian stem cell system.

Postdoctoral researcher Dan Wagner, first author of the Cell Stem Cell paper, and Reddien devised a clever method to identify potential genetic regulators and then determine if those genes affect the two main functions of stem cells: differentiation and renewal of the stem cell population.

After identifying genes active in cNeoblasts, Wagner irradiated the planarians, leaving a single surviving cNeoblast in each planarian. Left alone, each cNeoblast can form colonies of new cells at very specific rates of differentiation and stem cell renewal.

The researchers knocked down each of the active genes, one per planarian, and observed how the surviving cNeoblasts responded. By comparing the rate of differentiation and stem cell renewal to that of normal cNeoblasts, they could determine the role of each gene. Thus, if a colony containing a certain knocked down gene were observed to have fewer stem cells than the controls, it could be concluded that gene in question plays a role in the process of stem cell renewal. And if the colony had fewer differentiated cells than normal, the knocked down gene could be associated with differentiation.

"Because it's a quantitative method, we can now precisely measure the role of each gene in different aspects of stem cell function," says Wagner. "Being able to measure stem cell activity with a colony is a great improvement over methods that existed before, which were much more indirect."

In total, Wagner identified 10 genes impacting cNeoblast renewal, and two genes with roles in both renewal and differentiation. According to Wagner, three of the stem cell renewal genes are particularly intriguing because they code for proteins that are similar to components of Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), known to regulate stem cell biology in mammalian embryonic stem cells and in other stem cell systems.

"It's interesting because it suggests a parallel between how stem cells operate in planarians and in mammals. For example, there might be similarities between how cNeoblasts and embryonic stem cells function and maintain stemness at the molecular level," he says.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Keck Foundation.

Written by Nicole Giese Rura

Peter Reddien's primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist and an associate professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full Citation:

"Genetic Regulators of a Pluripotent Adult Stem Cell System in Planarians Identified by RNAi and Clonal Analysis" Cell Stem Cell, March 2, 2012.Daniel E. Wagner (1), Jaclyn J. Ho (1), and Peter W. Reddien (1).

1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, MIT Biology, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 9 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA

Nicole Giese Rura | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wi.mit.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Polarization of Br2 molecule in vanadium oxide cluster cavity and new alkane bromination
13.07.2020 | Kanazawa University

nachricht Researchers present concept for a new technique to study superheavy elements
13.07.2020 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electron cryo-microscopy: Using inexpensive technology to produce high-resolution images

Biochemists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) have used a standard electron cryo-microscope to achieve surprisingly good images that are on par with those taken by far more sophisticated equipment. They have succeeded in determining the structure of ferritin almost at the atomic level. Their results were published in the journal "PLOS ONE".

Electron cryo-microscopy has become increasingly important in recent years, especially in shedding light on protein structures. The developers of the new...

Im Focus: The spin state story: Observation of the quantum spin liquid state in novel material

New insight into the spin behavior in an exotic state of matter puts us closer to next-generation spintronic devices

Aside from the deep understanding of the natural world that quantum physics theory offers, scientists worldwide are working tirelessly to bring forth a...

Im Focus: Excitation of robust materials

Kiel physics team observed extremely fast electronic changes in real time in a special material class

In physics, they are currently the subject of intensive research; in electronics, they could enable completely new functions. So-called topological materials...

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Black phosphorus-based van der Waals heterostructures for mid-infrared light-emission applications

13.07.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

Polarization of Br2 molecule in vanadium oxide cluster cavity and new alkane bromination

13.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Researchers present concept for a new technique to study superheavy elements

13.07.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>