One way that function is accomplished is by placing a methylation group on top of certain genes that activate other cell destinations -- such as to become a liver cell -- usually switching those genes off. "We have known how these marks are put on genes, but we didn't know how they were taken off in the process of pushing an adult cell to revert back to a stem-cell-like state," Dr. Evans says.
Dr. Evans and his colleagues found that the AID enzyme removed those epigenetic markers.
They then created a mouse that did not produce AID to see if the animal's adult fibroblast cells could be pushed back to iPS cells. "If you need AID to reprogram the cells, you shouldn't be able to do it, or do it well."
Surprisingly, they found that the cells at first seemed to want to reprogram even faster than normal cells, but most never fully reverted to a stem-cell-like state. "They eventually crashed and differentiated back into a fibroblast," Dr. Evans says. "What that meant is that they never cleared their memory of being a fibroblast cell. AID efficiently removes that epigenetic memory, smoothing the way for a cell to morph into an undifferentiated state."
But some of the mouse adult fibroblasts lacking AID -- those that Dr. Evans says they "babysat" -- did become iPS cells.
Despite the fact that reprogramming adult cells without AID is inefficient, the researchers say that the method may offer another advantage besides increased safety.
"It might be useful to allow epigenetic memory to be retained," Dr. Evans says. "If you want to make new cardiac cells to repair a patient's heart, it might be better to start with a cardiac cell and push it to become an
|Contact: John Rodgers|
Weill Cornell Medical College