In the new study, the researchers wanted to figure out how to keep stem cells proliferating but stop them from differentiating, creating a nearly pure population of stem cells. This has been difficult to do because stem cells start to differentiate as soon as they lose contact with a Paneth cell.
Paneth cells control two signaling pathways, known as Notch and Wnt, which coordinate cell proliferation, especially during embryonic development. The researchers identified two small molecules, valproic acid and CHIR-99021, that work together to induce stem cells to proliferate and prevent them from differentiating into mature cells.
When the researchers grew mouse intestinal stem cells in a dish containing these two small molecules, they obtained large clusters made of 70 to 90 percent stem cells.
Once the researchers had nearly pure populations of stem cells, they showed that they could drive them to develop into particular types of intestinal cells by adding other factors that influence the Wnt and Notch pathways. "We used different combinations of inhibitors and activators to drive stem cells to differentiate into specific populations of mature cells," Yin says.
This approach also works in mouse stomach and colon cells, the researchers found. They also showed that the small molecules improved the proliferation of human intestinal stem cells. They are now working on engineering intestinal tissues for patient transplant and developing new ways to rapidly test the effects of drugs on intestinal cells.
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology