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For stem cells, fate depends on location

Medicine@Yale, 2014 - Mar Apr

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Stem cells are widely studied in part because they can transform: they can become heart, liver, and even brain cells. Research on stem cell “fate” has largely focused on the cells’ intrinsic properties and genetic patterns.

A Yale study implicates a different factor: a cell’s original location in its “niche.” The lab of Valentina Greco, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics and dermatology and senior author, developed a novel form of microscopy to track individual stem cells in the hair follicles of living mice. Monitoring these cells dynamically as a hair grew, first author Panteleimon Rompolas, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in genetics, and colleagues found that cells from the lower part of the follicle niche tended to end up in the hair structure, while those at the top of the niche tended to remain stem cells. When they killed only cells in one area, other cells moved in and began behaving like the cells they’d replaced.

The findings, published online October 6 in Nature, suggest that stem cell location has far more influence on cell fate than previously thought.