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Interaction between stem cells and their niches key to differentiation

ually become mature eggs.

"We found that stem cells behavior is regulated by the neighboring niche cells, which provide an idyllic hideaway essential to the functioning of the stem cells," Lin said. "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 cells is detached from niche cells and will thus acquire a different fate."

Lin's team determined three different genes -- piwi, pumilio (pum) and bam (bag of marbles) that mediate the interplay between stem cells and niche cells that controls stem cell fate. It has been known that piwi and pum must be activated for successful self-renewal of germline stem cells, while bam is essential for cystoblast differentiation. Piwi, initially discovered in the Lin lab, is the founding member of a family of genes involved in the development stem cells in diverse organisms in both animal and plant kingdoms. pum- and bam-like genes also exist in mammals and humans.

"In our experiments we demonstrated that piwi and bam proteins are expressed independently of each other in reciprocal patterns in germline stem cells and cystoblasts," Lin said. "However, overexpression of either one of these genes antagonizes the action of the other in these cells, acting as on-off switches."

According to their new model of niche cell-germline stem cell interaction, activation of the piwi gene in niche cells leads to the production of proteins that block the expression of bam in germline stem cells. The absence of an active bam gene causes pum, and other genes in the stem cells, to become active. The pum gene then prevents the production of proteins involved in differentiation.

"The result of this sequence of events is the suppression of differentiation, which maintains the fate of the cell as a germline stem cell," Lin said.

In the cystoblast cell, the signal from piwi is no lon
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Contact: Richard Merritt
Merri006@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
25-Jan-2005


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