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Medium is the message for stem cells in search of identities

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Embryonic stem cells, prized for their astonishing ability to apparently transform into any kind of cell in the body, acquire their identities in part by interacting with their surroundings - even when they are outside of the body in a laboratory dish, University of Florida scientists report.

Using an animal model of embryonic stem cell development, researchers with UF's McKnight Brain Institute have begun to answer one of the most fundamental questions in science - how does a batch of immature cells give rise to an organ as extraordinarily complex as the human brain?

The findings, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may one day help scientists create laboratory environments to grow specialized cells that can be transplanted into patients to treat epilepsy, Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases or other brain disorders.

Scientists observed that when embryonic stem cells from mice were plated on four different surfaces in cell culture dishes, specific types of cells would arise.

"The medium and the molecular environment influence the fate of the cell," said Dennis Steindler, Ph.D., executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute. "We simulated some events that occur while the brain is developing and challenged them with different environments, and the effects are profound. Ultimately both nature and nurture influence the final identity of a stem cell, but in early stages it seems nurture is very important."

In experiments, scientists confirmed a cell culture surface molecule called laminin activates a common developmental pathway that is crucial for the generation and survival of particular types of brain cells.

The laminin-influenced stem cells are a kind that goes on to generate a brain structure called the medial ganglionic eminence, which in turn is believed to give rise to a population of early neurons in the developing cereb
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Contact: John Pastor
jpastor@vpha.health.ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
5-Jul-2006


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