Stem cells: the crucial role of proteins in differentiation

A network of proteins that preserve their ability to differentiate and become any type of cell, or in other words maintain their pluripotency, regulates stem cells

Dr. Navroop Dhaliwal and his team of cell biologists at the University of Toronto recently published a study in the online journal Genes & Development, in which they explain their revolutionary discovery of the process of differentiating stem cells into mature cells that form the various organs of the body.

A network of proteins that preserve their ability to differentiate and become any type of cell, or in other words maintain their pluripotency, regulates stem cells.

These proteins, called transcription factors, are produced by the DNA genes of an organism, and regulate the process by which cells decide to specialize or not.

The revolutionary discovery of Dr. Dhaliwal’s team lies in the role of the transcription factor Kruppel-like-factor 4 (KLF4), which gives stem cells their unique properties.

«We found that the KLF4 protein is highly stable and blocks cells in their stem cell state. However, by breaking this protein, it allows the specialization of stem cells, which then develop in the different organs of the body,» affirms Dhaliwal.

When, in fact, they observed how a stem cell differentiates and abandons the state of immature cell, the team of cell biologists found that the protein KLF4 becomes unstable during the differentiation process, whereas preventing this alteration, cells cannot specialize.

«These findings have important implications for regenerative medicine as building new organs requires a detailed understanding of how cells exit their immature state,» Dhaliwal adds. «Knowing this, we can now develop more efficient ways to produce patient-specific stem cells and differentiate these cells into more mature cells».

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