Cells that can develop into everything - the molecular underpinnings of totipotency – University of Copenhagen

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27 October 2014

Cells that can develop into everything - the molecular underpinnings of totipotency

TOTIPOTENCY

Postdoc Sophie Morgani and Professor Joshua Brickman from the Danish Stem Cell Center publish article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on totipotent stem cells. These cells, of which a fraction can be found in embryonic cell cultures, have the capacity to develop into not only all cells in the developing organism, but also the extra-embryonic tissue such as placenta and yolk sac.

Currently very little is known about what makes a cell totipotent i.e. the molecular instructions the cells have and how they communicate with one another. In the new paper, Morgani and Brickman discuss all the available data on totipotency and argue that this unique cell state may be supported by the simultaneous and transient exposure of cells to the instructions for multiple lineages. 

Development begins by fertilisation of a single cell. This single cell will then divide to generate daughter cells that give rise to all cell types of the adult as well as  to the placenta and other support tissues required for mammalian development.

 single ES cell was differentiated and generated a number of different cell types

It is possible for a single cell to give rise to multiple cell types. Here a single ES cell was differentiated and generated a number of different cell types as marked by 3 different markers - Gata6 in blue marking endoderm, Brachyury in red marking mesoderm and Cdx2 in green marking trophoblast, which gives rise to the placenta.

As the starting cell has the capacity to generate a whole organism, it can be said to be ‘totipotent’. During further development, cells of the embryo become more specialised and, as a result, have a more restricted potential hence are said to be ‘pluripotent’ or ‘multipotent’.

When embryonic stem (ES) cells were originally discovered, they were thought to be pluripotent, however, it now appears that these stem cell cultures also contain a fraction of totipotent cells. The discovery of totipotent cells in ES cell cultures could therefore have a significant therapeutic impact.

The article “The molecular underpinnings of totipotency” is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on October 27, 2014.


For more information, please contact Professor Joshua Brickman, Joshua.brickman@sund.ku.dk, Phone: +45 5168 0438