Scientists explain how morphogens work

CINCINNATI Scientists at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center believe they have answered some critical questions that address how signaling molecules, called morphogens, work.

Morphogens are secreting signaling molecules that play a key role in the formation of the shape and size of organs. For example, these molecules play a role in determining the bean-like shape of human kidneys. But when these molecules malfunction, they can lead to organ defects and cancers. This study provides insights into the mechanisms of organogenesis and could have implications for treating organ defects and cancers.

For years scientists at Cincinnati Children's and elsewhere have sought to determine how morphogens work. In a new study published in the October 15 issue of the journal Cell, Xinhua Lin, PhD, an assistant professor of developmental biology at Cincinnati Children's, concluded that morphogens work by "diffusion."

"These findings provide new insight into the understanding of the mechanisms that control the function of morphogens," Lin said. "In order to treat diseases related with morphogen malfunctions, scientists must first understand the mechanisms that trigger diseases. This understanding can lead to new insight into the possibility of developing new strategies to treat related diseases."

There are several groups of morphogens, but in his new paper, Dr. Lin focuses on TGF beta family molecules that function as morphogens. His interest is in learning how the TGF beta morphogen works.

Developmental biologists have considered and tested several theories that could explain how morphogens work. These theories include extracellular diffusion and transcytosis. In extracellular diffusion, it is suggested that morphogens move across cells by traveling across the surface of cells. Alternatively, the transcytosis model proposes that cells transfer morphogen molecules through endocytosis, which is the incorporation of s

Contact: Amy Reyes
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

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