UCSD discovery shows how embryonic stem cells perform 'quality control' inspections

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have found a fundamental mechanism used by embryonic stem cells to assure that genetically damaged stem cells do not divide and pass along the damage to daughter stem cells.

Their discovery, detailed in an advance online publication of the journal Nature Cell Biology, solves the longstanding mystery of how embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to divide an unlimited number of times and differentiate to make all of the cell types in the body, are able to avoid duplicating cells that have sustained genetic damage.

"What we discovered is a primary mechanism that allows embryonic stem cells to perform quality control inspections during their self-renewal, the process by which these cells undergo unlimited cellular division to produce an unlimited number of daughter cells," says Yang Xu, an associate professor of biology at UCSD who headed the research team.

"Since DNA damage can occur during normal cellular propagation as well as after the exposure of cells to DNA-damaging radiation and chemicals, it is critical for the embryonic stem cells to develop stringent mechanisms to ensure the repair of DNA damage and prevent the passage of DNA damage to their daughter cells. Unrepaired DNA damage will cause genetic instability and, ultimately, cellular transformation into cancer cells."

Xu and his team made their discovery while working with embryonic stem cell lines from mice, which possess the same known properties and capabilities as human embryonic stem cells. They found that a protein, p53, known to play a critical role in the suppression of tumors in both humans and mice, is also used to maintain the genetic stability of embryonic stem cells.

The scientists, who included Tongxiang Lin, a UCSD postdoctoral fellow and the first author of the study, and Connie Chao, a graduate student in Xu's laboratory, discovered that p53 activated by DNA damage in mouse em

Contact: Yang Xu
858 822-1084
University of California - San Diego

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