January 26, 2005

Biologists Find Stem Cell Regulator

Study defines signaling system between stem cells and the niche cells that harbor them

HealthDayNews -- A signaling system between stem cells and specialized niche cells that harbor and regulate the stem cells has been defined by cell biologists at Duke University Medical Center.

They found that regulatory genes from niche cells give instructions to genes in stem cells to determine the stem cells' future path. Both niche cells and stem cells have genes that produce proteins that act as on/off toggles for stem cell division.

This study offers more insight into the signals that instruct stem cells to either create more copies of themselves or to change into another cell type. It's vital to understand how stem cells receive their instructions to differentiate because any future clinical use of stem cells must also take into account the role of niche cells, the Duke team said.

"We found that stem cell behavior is regulated by the neighboring niche cells, which provide an idyllic hideaway essential to the functioning of the stem cells," research leader Haifan Lin said in a prepared statement.

"Stem cell division is an asymmetric process. After division, one daughter cell remains attached to the niche cell and thus remains as a stem cell, whereas the other daughter cell is detached from niche cells and will thus acquire a different fate," Lin said.

The study appears in the Jan. 26 issue of Current Biology.

More information

Duke University Medical Center

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.