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Trio of signals converge to induce liver and pancreas cell development in the embryo
Date:6/26/2009

ory proteins that attach to chromosomes, marking part of the genome to be turned on or off. But first the two meters of tightly coiled DNA inside the nucleus of every cell must be loosened a bit. The regulatory proteins help with this, exposing a small domain near the target gene. They then act as a landing pad on which other proteins assemble to continue the gene activation process.

The Science paper addresses how chemical signals from neighboring cells in the embryo tell early progenitor cells to activate genes encoding the regulatory proteins. The regulatory proteins, in turn, guide the cells to become a liver cell or a pancreas cell. "In the current study we mapped the signaling pathways being turned on before they connected with the target genes," explains Zaret. "We monitored these cues before the cell displayed any overt signs of differentiation. While my lab and others had previously looked at individual signals that influence development, in this paper we simultaneously mapped three signal paths that converge to induce liver and pancreas cells. We're starting to construct a network of the common signals that govern development of these specific cell types. The complexity of this system is somewhat like our 26-letter alphabet being able to encode Shakespeare or a menu at a restaurant."

Many investigators are now trying to broadly reprogram cells into desired cell fates for potential therapeutic uses. "By better understanding how a cell is normally programmed we will eventually be able to directly reprogram other cells," notes Zaret. "An analogy I use here is if a watch is broken and you want to know how to reassemble it, the best thing is to go the factory and see how it is assembled in the first place. That may not be the solution to fixing it, but it's a good place to start."

In the near term, the team also aims to generate liver and pancreas cells for research and to screen drugs that repair defects or facilitate cell growth. <
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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