Scientists at University of Copenhagen and University of Edinburgh have identified a core set of functionally relevant factors which regulates embryonic stem cells' ability for self-renewal. A key aspect is the protein Oct4 and how it makes stem cells stick together. The identification of these factors will be an important tool in devising better and safer ways of making specialised cells for future regenerative cell therapies for treatment of diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's disease. The results have just been published in the scientific journal Current Biology.
Scientists have known that the protein Oct4 plays a key role in maintaining the embryonic stem cells in pure form by turning on stem cell genes, however up until now it has not been know which of the 8.000 or more possible genes that Oct4 can choose from actually support self-renewal.
By comparing the evolution of stem cells in frogs, mice and humans, scientists at the Danish Stem Cell Center (DanStem) and The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh have now been able to link the protein Oct4 with the ability of cells to stick together. They found that for embryonic stem cells to thrive they need to stick together and Oct4's role is to make sure they stay that way.
"Embryonic stem cells can stay forever young unless they become grown-up cells with a specialised job in a process called differentiation. Our study shows that Oct4 prevents this process by pushing stem cells to stick to each other," says Dr Alessandra Livigni, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
Identification of specific genes
The research teams in Edinburgh and Copenhagen successfully identified 53 genes, out of more than 8.000 possible candidates that together with Oct4, functionally regulate cell adhesion. Almost like finding needles in a haystack the scientists have paved the way for a more efficient way of maintaining stem cells as stem cells.
|Contact: Joshua Brickman|
University of Copenhagen