UCLA researchers recreate patterns formed by mammalian cells

In early development, how do cells know to put the right spacing between ribs, fingers and toes? How do they communicate with each other to form symmetrical and repeated patterns such as zebra stripes or leopard spots?

For the first time, UCLA researchers have recreated the ability of mammalian cells to self-organize, forming evenly spaced patterns in a test tube. Published in the June 22, 2004 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings may help improve methods for regenerating tissue, controlling birth defects and developing new treatments for specific diseases.

"Just as a marching band needs direction from a conductor to line up in formation on a football field, cells also need guidance to form patterns -- but until now we didn't know how they were communicating or receiving direction," said Alan Garfinkel, Ph.D., first author and professor of physiology and cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Previously it was a bit magical how cells knew exactly how far apart to space ribs or tiger stripes," said Dr. Linda L. Demer, senior investigator, Guthman Professor of Medicine and Physiology, and vice chair for cardiovascular and vascular medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "We now know that it's orchestrated by specific proteins produced by cells that disperse at different rates and interfere with one another. These interactions can be described in mathematical formulas dictating how cells organize into specific, evenly spaced patterns."

Demer notes that similar mechanisms may explain how an embryo creates structures in evenly spaced patterns in early development or how certain diseases may trigger cells to create lesions in specific patterns.

Researchers grew stem cells from adult bovine arteries and found that they produce intricate, lace-like patterns in culture dishes. Such patterns are known to be created in nature by a process called reaction-

Contact: Rachel Champeau
University of California - Los Angeles

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