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Knocking the Sox off early mammalian development

Scientists have identified a gene that is required during early mammalian embryogenesis to maintain cellular pluripotency the ability of an embryonic cell to develop into virtually any cell type of the adult animal. This discovery by Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge and colleagues at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (London, UK) that the Sox2 gene is necessary to sustain the developmental plasticity of embryonic cells sheds new light on the molecular cues that direct early embryogenesis, as well as the genetic requirements for embryonic stem cell maintenance. The report is published in the January 1 issue of Genes & Development.

"Stem cells must have specific genes that give them their characteristic properties. Our work describes one such gene, Sox2, that appears essential for multipotent stem cell types in the early embryo," explains Dr. Lovell-Badge.

Early in mammalian development, a pre-implantation stage embryo called a blastocyst forms. The cells of the blastocyst are at a developmental fork in the road: The cells on the surface of the blastocyst become trophoblast cells, while the cells on the inside of the blastocyst become the inner cell mass (ICM). The ICM is further specified into epiblast and hypoblast cells, which, together with trophoblast cells, give rise to the entire embryo and its associated tissues: epiblast cells differentiate into all the cell types of the embryo, hypoblast cells differentiate into the yolk sac, and trophoblast cells differentiate into the chorion and much of the placenta, including a range of specialized cell types.

Dr. Lovell-Badge and colleagues have identified Sox2 as one of the only two known transcription factors (master gene regulators) to be involved in the specification of these three embryonic cell lineages.

"We have been working with this gene for a while, using it, for example, to study stem cells of the nervous system, and simply set out to ask what its critical role is during
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Contact: Heather Cosel
coselpie@cshl.org
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
31-Dec-2002


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