Researchers provide road map for generating B cells from stem cells

Before stem cells, of whatever origin, can be used to treat patients, scientists will need to learn how to coax them to develop into the desired cell types, a major challenge. In the 12 October 2004 issue of Developmental Cell, researchers from the University of Chicago present the first rough road map, suggesting how to lead a hematopoietic stem cell down the narrowing path to becoming an antibody-producing B cell.

The researchers describe four critical stages on the way from a multi-potent precursor to a committed B-cell and suggest how combinations of regulatory proteins and signaling pathways direct maturing cells through each crossroad, guiding them down one specific developmental path, preparing them to respond to signals yet to come, and blocking off other options.

"Our findings reveal considerable complexity, but are promising from the standpoint of directing stem cell differentiation," said Harinder Singh, Ph.D., Louis Block Professor of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Chicago.

"For this one cell type, about which we already knew a great deal, it's a complicated and elaborate recipe that involves multiple ingredients at each step and mixing them in a particular order. We expect that other cell types will require similarly complex regulatory networks for their generation."

"But the work is also promising," Singh added. "Once we order the components and gain insight into the design principles of such regulatory networks we may be able to make any kind of cell we want, or even produce hybrids that combine features of different cell types, such as antibody-producing skin cells."

Singh and colleagues work with hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which give rise to the different types of blood cells. Unlike embryonic stem cells, HSCs have already taken some steps in differentiation and are committed to producing various types of blood c

Contact: John Easton
University of Chicago Medical Center

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