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Sperm Cell Insights May Aid Stem Cell Research

Scientists spot proteins that help sperm revert to stem cell state

THURSDAY, Aug. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Two proteins that play a major role in reverting adult sperm cells back into stem cells have been identified by U.S. researchers.

A team from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore genetically altered male fruit flies to reduce the activity of two proteins called Jak and STAT in the testis. The researchers reduced the stem cell population in the flies' testis to zero and found that only 60 percent of testis in the genetically altered flies regained stem cells, compared with 97 percent of testis in normal flies.

"We know now that in the fly testis, interfering with Jak-STAT signaling interferes with the process of dedifferentiation," Erika Matunis, an associate professor of cell biology, said in a university news release.

Dedifferentiation is the redirection of stem cells on the way to becoming sperm cells back to stem cells.

The study, published online this week in the journal Cell Stem Cell, may help in efforts to develop effective stem cell therapies.

The Hopkins researchers now want to determine how Jak and STAT control dedifferentiation.

"We don't know if a cell is just reversing all of the steps to go back to being a stem cell or if it is doing something totally new and different, but we're eager to find out," Matunis said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Aug. 6, 2009

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