Nav: Home

Luxembourg researchers decipher how the body controls stem cells

March 15, 2017

Stem cells are unspecialised cells that can develop into any type of cell in the human body. So far, however, scientists only partially understand how the body controls the fate of these all-rounders, and what factors decide whether a stem cell will differentiate, for example, into a blood, liver or nerve cell. Researchers from the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg and an international team have now identified an ingenious mechanism by which the body orchestrates the regeneration of red and white blood cells from progenitor cells. "This finding can help us to improve stem cell therapy in future," says Dr. Alexander Skupin, head of the "Integrative Cell Signalling" group of LCSB. The LCSB team has published its results in the scientific journal PLOS Biology (DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.2000640).

Although all cells in an organism carry the same genetic blueprints -- the same DNA -- some of them act as blood or bone cells, for example, while others function as nerve or skin cells. Researchers already understand quite well how individual cells work. But how an organism is able to create such a diversity of cells from the same genetic template and how it manages to relocate them to wherever they are needed in the body is still largely unknown.

In order to learn more about this process, Alexander Skupin and his team treated blood stem cells from mice with growth hormones and then watched closely how these progenitor cells behaved during their differentiation into white or red blood cells. The researchers observed that the cells' transformation does not occur in linear, targeted fashion, but rather more opportunistically. Each progenitor cell adapts to the needs of its environment and integrates itself into the body where new cells are needed. "So, it is not as though the cell takes a ticket at the beginning of its differentiation and then travels straight to its destination. Rather, it gets off frequently to look around and see which line is best to take," Alexander Skupin explains. By this clever mechanism, a multicellular organism can adapt the regrowth of new cells to its current needs. "Before progenitor cells differentiate once and for all, they first lose their stem cell character and then check, as it were, which cell line is currently in demand. Only then do they develop into the cell type that best suits their characteristics and which prevails in their environment," Alexander Skupin says.

The researcher likens this step to a game of roulette, where the different types of cells can be thought of as the differently numbered slots in the roulette wheel that catch the ball. "When the cells lose their stem cell character, they are quasi thrown into the roulette wheel, where they first bounce around aimlessly. Only when they have found the right environment do the cells then drop into that niche - like the roulette ball falling into a numbered slot - and differentiate definitively." This way, the body can orchestrate its cell regeneration and at the same time prevent stem cells from being misdirected too early. "Even if a cell takes a wrong turn, it is ultimately sorted out again if its characteristics are unsuitable for the niche, or slot, it has landed in," says Skupin.

With their study, Alexander Skupin and his team have shown for the first time that a progenitor cell's fate is not clearly predetermined and does not follow a straight line. "This observation contradicts the current doctrine that stem cells are programmed to follow a certain lineage from the beginning," Alexander Skupin says. The researcher is furthermore convinced that the processes are similar for other progenitor cells. "In the lab, we have observed the same differentiation pattern in so-called iPS cells, or induced pluripotent stem cells, which can transform into many different types of cells." This knowledge can help the researchers to improve the effectiveness of therapies in future. Stem cell therapy involves administering a patient his or her own body's stem cells in order to replace other cells that have died as a result of an affliction such as Parkinson's disease. While this promising treatment method has been intensively researched over many years, there has so far been only limited practical success in endogenous stem cell therapy. It is also highly controversial, since it is frequently accompanied by severe side effects and it cannot be ruled out that some cells might degenerate and lead to cancer. "Because we now have a better understanding of how the body influences the direction in which stem cells differentiate, we can hopefully control this process better in future," Alexander Skupin concludes.
-end-


University of Luxembourg

Related Stem Cells Articles:

First events in stem cells becoming specialized cells needed for organ development
Cell biologists at the University of Toronto shed light on the very first step stem cells go through to turn into the specialized cells that make up organs.
Surprising research result: All immature cells can develop into stem cells
New sensational study conducted at the University of Copenhagen disproves traditional knowledge of stem cell development.
The development of brain stem cells into new nerve cells and why this can lead to cancer
Stem cells are true Jacks-of-all-trades of our bodies, as they can turn into the many different cell types of all organs.
Healthy blood stem cells have as many DNA mutations as leukemic cells
Researchers from the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology have shown that the number of mutations in healthy and leukemic blood stem cells does not differ.
New method grows brain cells from stem cells quickly and efficiently
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a faster method to generate functional brain cells, called astrocytes, from embryonic stem cells.
NUS researchers confine mature cells to turn them into stem cells
Recent research led by Professor G.V. Shivashankar of the Mechanobiology Institute at the National University of Singapore and the FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology in Italy, has revealed that mature cells can be reprogrammed into re-deployable stem cells without direct genetic modification -- by confining them to a defined geometric space for an extended period of time.
Researchers develop a new method for turning skin cells into pluripotent stem cells
Researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, have for the first time succeeded in converting human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells by activating the cell's own genes.
In mice, stem cells seem to work in fighting obesity! What about stem cells in humans?
This release aims to summarize the available literature in regard to the effect of Mesenchymal Stem Cells transplantation on obesity and related comorbidities from the animal model.
TSRI researchers identify gene responsible for mesenchymal stem cells' stem-ness'
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute recently published a study in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation identifying factors crucial to mesenchymal stem cell differentiation, providing insight into how these cells should be studied for clinical purposes.
Stem cells in intestinal lining may shed light on behavior of cancer cells
The lining of the intestines -- the epithelium -- does more than absorb nutrients from your lunch.
More Stem Cells News and Stem Cells Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.