​Earliest Steps in Stem Cell Differentiation Revealed

Regenerative medicine using stem cells is a fast growing field of research. Its applications to patient care are widespread, from repairing the body after injury, to re-growing fingertips, to fixing a failing heart. However, this emerging discipline suffers from a lack of understanding by researchers as to the basic mechanisms driving stem cell differentiation. Without this understanding, scientists are as yet unable to control the differentiation process, and thus have limited abilities to develop effective and consistent therapeutic applications.

In a new study published online in the journal Stem Cells and Development, a team of researchers looked at the earliest steps involved in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) development, from undifferentiated stem cells to epithelial cells. They sought to ascertain which molecular and cellular markers are involved in this transitional phase, using cells grown in culture.

Their results revealed a set of cellular changes that may represent the earliest markers of hESC transition to epithelium, a tissue that lines the cavities and surfaces throughout the body. Their findings may be helpful to the development of much needed methods to control the differentiation process, and ultimately will benefit the field of regenerative medicine.

Says first author Vasiliy Galat, PhD: “Formation of simple epithelium is the first event of cellular differentiation that occurs in the embryo during its development. Our study is a quest for the very first steps of stem cell differentiation and focuses on the events preceding and concomitant with epithelial formation. Therefore, it provides a platform for a deeper insight into development of the human embryo as well as epithelial differentiation. Most importantly, we discovered molecular changes in pluripotent cells at their commitment to differentiate at the earliest possible stage, including alterations in cytoskeleton, tight junctions, cellular calcium and the loss of polarity.” Read more about Dr. Galat's work >

The study’s authors include scientists from Children’s Hospital of Chicago Research Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the Russian Academy of Sciences and GeneGo Inc. The work was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute at the NIH.

For a PDF copy of the study, please contact: kruehle@liebertpub.com, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.

Full citation: 

Galat V, Malchenko S, Galat Y, Ishkin A, Nikolsky Y, Kosak ST, Soares MB, Iannaccone P, Crispino JD, Hendrix MJ. “A model of early human embryonic stem cell differentiation reveals inter- and intracellular changes upon transition to squamous epithelium”, Stem Cells and Development, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 2011 Aug 23. ​
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