Tiny physical pokes and prods may be enough to spur stem cell movement and differentiation, according to a new study published online in Nature Materials today (October 18). These findings suggest mechanical forces in the early embryo's microenvironment may play a bigger role in its development than scientists had realized.
A soft embryonic stem cell (left)
has a large nucleus (blue) and
relatively little actin (red) and
responds to applied stress by
spreading and downregulating
gene expression; stiff
differentiated cells (right)
have more actin bundles and
do not respond to applied stress.

Image: F.Chowdhury/N.Wang
"I think it is very exciting work," Harvard University cell biologist linkurl:Donald Ingber,;http://web1.tch.harvard.edu/research/ingber/ who was not involved in the research, wrote in an email to The Scientist. "It further goes to show the fundamental role that mechanical forces play in development control." Previous research has shown that stretching or stressing a whole cell can elongate...

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