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Stem cell discovery sheds light on placenta development
Date:6/9/2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Researchers studying embryonic stem cells have explored the first fork in the developmental road, getting a new look at what happens when fertilized eggs differentiate to build either an embryo or a placenta.

By manipulating a specific gene in a mouse blastocyst the structure that develops from a fertilized egg but is not yet an actual embryo scientists with the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute caused cells destined to build an embryo to instead change direction and build the cell mass that leads to the placenta.

Writing in today's (Monday, June 9) online edition of Nature Genetics, the scientists reveal a cellular signaling mechanism in place at the earliest developmental stage.

Understanding the conditions that cause these cells to go off to different fates may have a bearing on health problems such as ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when the embryo develops outside of the womb in about 1 of 60 pregnancies, or molar pregnancy, which is abnormal tissue growth within the uterus that affects about 1 in every 1,000 pregnancies.

"We originally were exploring factors that might cause embryonic stem cells to become malignant there is a concern that these cells may cause tumors," said Chi-Wei Lu, Ph.D., an associate neuroscientist at the UF College of Medicine and lead author of the study. "Our experiments led us to discover the signal that initiates the process of embryonic tissue differentiation."

By activating a gene called Ras in cells bathed in a very specific culture medium, scientists were able to cause embryonic stem cells which originate from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst to become more like the trophoblastic stem cells that give rise to the placenta from the outer portion of the blastocyst.

Researchers marked these newly minted cells, which they called ES-TS cells, and injected them into mouse embryos. Instead of j
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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