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Stem cells engage in dialogue with the cells that regulate their futures

se in the blood system, gut, breasts, and muscles. However, in many cases it hasn't been clear which cells send and which ones receive the signaling protein.

The UW researchers analyzed the role of the Notch signaling pathway in both the stem cells and the cap cells. They found that either an increased production of Delta protein in the stem cells, or the presence of activated Notch protein in niche cells, resulted in up to 10 times the normal number of niche cells. These extra niche cells in turn resulted in a larger population of stem cells.

On the other hand, when stem cells don't produce functional Delta protein, they cease to be stem cells and soon leave the niche. The researchers also found that the receiving end for the Notch pathway, the trigger, is required in the niche cells, making them receivers of signals, not just senders. Work by other scientists had shown that TCF-beta signaling from niche cells is required to maintain active stem cells.

"Our study now shows that stem cells use the Notch pathway to signal to neighboring cells to maintain an active niche, and in turn, the niche induces and maintains the fate of the stem cells," Ruohola-Baker noted. "This is a first indication of a dialogue taking place between the stem cells and the niche that supports them. It is tempting to speculate that maybe multiple potential niches exist for stem cells in our bodies that can be turned on to action when signaling stem cells are in the neighborhood. It may very well be that the power of cancer cells to spread comes from this natural ability of stem cells to make a home when in a hospitable environment. We all need a home, and stem cells with their strong survival instinct are active homebuilders."
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Source:University of Washington


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