The essence of stem cells

Researchers discover a protein that may allow already-differentiated somatic cells to become stem cells.

Jun 3, 2011
Cristina Luiggi

Messenchymal stem cellsNATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE

A membrane protein that acts as the glue between cells is also necessary for the ability of embryonic stem cells to differentiate into multiple tissue types, as well as for already-differentiated cells to become pluripotent. In the absence of the cell-adhesion protein E-cadherin, stem cells lose their pluripotency, researchers in Berlin found. Likewise, when differentiated cells that normally don't express E-cadherin are reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), they begin to produce the protein. The discovery could eventually help researchers move toward "using human somatic cells to develop stem cell therapy for diseases such as heart attack, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease or diabetes," said lead researcher Daniel Besser of the Max-Delbruck-Center for Molecular Medicine in a press release.