A paper to be published online by Nature (Vol. 441, No. 7095)identifies a molecule that endows embryonic stem (ES) cells with their revered properties: the ability to self-renew and 'pluripotency', the ability to make numerous other cell types. Molecules such as this might one day be used to convert a patient's regular, somatic cell into an ES cell, perhaps avoiding the ethically contentious extraction of ES cells from human embryos.
Stem-cell biologists know that fusing an ES cell with a somatic cell can bestow the latter with pluripotency. Austin Smith and his colleagues show that a protein called Nanog, which is manufactured in young embryos, is responsible: they showed that mouse ES cells making extra Nanog protein can convert neural stem cells into pluripotent cells at a much higher efficiency. They propose that Nanog directs the ES cell machinery to erase old patterns of gene activity and install new pluripotent ones.
Austin Smith (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza