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Hormel Institute study makes key finding in stem cell self-renewal
Date:2/6/2012

A University of Minnesota-led research team has proposed a mechanism for the control of whether embryonic stem cells continue to proliferate and stay stem cells, or differentiate into adult cells like brain, liver or skin.

The work has implications in two areas. In cancer treatment, it is desirable to inhibit cell proliferation. But to grow adult stem cells for transplantation to victims of injury or disease, it would be desirable to sustain proliferation until a sufficient number of cells have been produced to make a usable organ or tissue.

The study gives researchers a handle on how those two competing processes might be controlled. It was performed at the university's Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn., using mouse stem cells. The researchers, led by Hormel Institute Executive Director Zigang Dong and Associate Director Ann M. Bode, have published a report in the journal Nature Structure and Molecular Biology.

"This is breakthrough research and provides the molecular basis for development of regenerative medicine," said Dong. "This research will aid in the development of the next generation of drugs that make repairs and regeneration within the body possible following damage by such factors as cancer, aging, heart disease, diabetes, or paralysis caused by traumatic injury."

The mechanism centers on a protein called Klf4, which is found in embryonic stem cells and whose activities include keeping those cells dividing and proliferating rather than differentiating. That is, Klf4 maintains the character of the stem cells; this process is called self-renewal. The researchers discovered that two enzymes, called ERK1 and ERK2, inactivate Klf; this allows the cells to begin differentiating into adult cells.

The two enzymes are part of a "bucket brigade" of signals that starts when a chemical messenger arrives from outside the embryonic stem cells. Chemical messages are passed to inside the cells, resulting in, among
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Contact: Jeff Falk
jfalk@umn.edu
612-626-1720
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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