AsianScientist (Apr. 13, 2018) – In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists in Singapore have identified a niche that keeps stem cells alive in the gut.
Stem cells have the ability to develop, or differentiate, into the many different cell types in the body. They also serve as a repair system to replace aged or damaged cells. With their regenerative abilities, stem cells offer enormous potential in treating many diseases.
Stems cells in adult tissues live in very specific locations called stem cell niches. These niches provide a specialized local environment for stem cells and regulate how stem cells participate in tissue generation, maintenance and repair. Such niches also prevent stem cells from being depleted, while protecting the body from over-production of stem cells. Understanding stem cell niches is therefore important in the field of stem cell therapeutics.
In this study, a team of researchers led by Professor David Virshup at Duke-NUS Medical School have discovered how the stem cell ‘neighborhood’ keeps stem cells in the gut alive.
Understanding the role of the niche requires identifying the key cell types that regulate the numerous processes that take place within the niche. In the intestinal stem cell niche, the key regulators are hormones called R-spondins and Wnts, which are frequently expressed together. However, it was unclear what type of niche cells make the Wnts and R-spondins.
The researchers thus focused on the source and functional role of Wnts and a specific type of R-spondin, RSPO3. RSPO3 is by far the most abundant R-spondin produced in the mouse small intestine. The team identified a specific cell called a subepithelial myofibroblast as an essential source of both Wnts and RSPO3.
If these niche cells cannot make Wnts, mice do not develop adult intestines, and if these niche cells cannot make RSPO3, mice cannot repair the intestine after injury. The researchers note that their work demonstrates the close interaction between epithelial stem cells and the niche that regulates them. Their findings also provide new insights into the structure of the stem cell niche in health and after injury.
Source: Duke-NUS Medical School.
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