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Stanford scientists identify protein that keeps stem cells poised for action
Date:12/24/2009

STANFORD, Calif. Like a child awaiting the arrival of Christmas, embryonic stem cells exist in a state of permanent anticipation. They must balance the ability to quickly become more specialized cell types with the cellular chaos that could occur should they act too early (stop shaking those presents, kids!). Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have now identified a critical component, called Jarid2, of this delicate balancing act one that both recruits other regulatory proteins to genes important in differentiation and also modulates their activity to keep them in a state of ongoing readiness.

"Understanding how only the relevant genes are targeted and remain poised for action is a hot topic in embryonic stem cell research," said Joanna Wysocka, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology and of chemical and systems biology. "Our results shed light on both these questions." Wysocka is the lead author of the research, which will be published in the Dec. 24 issue of Cell.

Jarid2 works through a protein complex called PRC2, for Polycomb Repressive Complex 2. PRCs keep genes quiet by modifying DNA packaging proteins called histones. It's not quite tying a string around a brown paper package, but the concept is similar: Wrapping DNA up neatly around the histones helps it all fit in the tiny space and keeps it out of commission until the appropriate time. That's because, when wrapped, genes can't be converted into proteins to do the work of the cell. PRC2 adds a molecular "Do not open until Christmas" tag to ensure the DNA stays wrapped until it's needed.

PRC2 is necessary to regulate the expression of developmentally important genes in many types of cells. But Wysocka and her colleagues wanted to know specifically how it worked in embryonic stem cells. When they looked in mouse embryonic stem cells, they found that nearly all PRC2 is bound to a protein called Jarid2, which is more prevalent in embryoni
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Contact: Krista Conger
kristac@stanford.edu
650-725-5371
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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