How to detect where pluripotent stem cells want to go

July 11, 2011

Researchers at the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute have discovered how human pluripotent stem cells (those capable of differentiating into many cell types) make decisions about what cell type to become: the destination is actually encoded by how their DNA is arranged, and this can be detected by specific proteins on the surface of the stem cells.

When they isolated stem cells with specific blood and neural destinations, based on protein markers on the surface of cells, they were able to produce a greater number of specialized cells — nearly five times as many blood cells and twelve times as many neural cells, compared to when the stem cells had to be forced into those cell types.

Until now, it was thought that stem cells keep all their options open and have no preference when it comes to becoming more specialized, the researchers said.

Ref.: Mickie Bhatia, Cell Fate Potential of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Is Encoded by Histone Modifications, Cell Stem Cell, Volume 9, Issue 1, 24-36, 8 July 201 [DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2011.06.002]