Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The role of the Sp2 protein in stem cell development

About a month ago, a team of scientists from North Carolina State's Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, released a very interesting study on the Sp2 protein and how it affects the development of stem cells. The team was led by Troy Ghashghaei and Jon Horowitz and their findings have implications on many fields including cancer research and neuron regeneration.

The scientists were divided into two smaller teams, one working on skin stem cells and one working on neural stem cells.

The first team was led by Horowitz. In their experiments they found out that Sp2 abundance prevented mouse skin stem cells to differentiate into somatic skin cells and instead they replicated into more and more stem cells, eventually leading to cancer development . These findings  indicate that Sp2:
  • May play a very significant role in the development of stem cells 
  • Excessive amounts of Sp2,  may disturb various regulatory mechanisms and as a result lead to cancer. 

The second team, led by Ghashghaei, did the exact opposite thing. In their experiments they used neural stem cells (specifically the ones forming the cerebral cortex) from mice, and using genetic methods they deprived them from all Sp2. The lack of Sp2 resulted in stem cells that were again unable to differentiate into somatic stem cells and instead made abnormal copies of themselves. Ghashghaei finds "very intriguing" the fact that both the abundance and total lack of Sp2 gave similar results. He believes that the combination of his and Horowitz findings are enough to prove that the presence of Sp2 is crucial for normal stem cell function.

Picture of a Neural stem cell colony
Neural stem cell colony

However, the scientists have only found out what happens in the lack or abundance of Sp2 and have still many questions regarding the true cellular mechanisms behind it. They hope that with future research they will be able to give answers to those questions, answers that have the potential to improve treatments in the fields of cancer, neuro-degenerative diseases and regenerative medicine.

Liang H, Xiao G, Yin H, Hippenmeyer S, Horowitz JM, & Ghashghaei HT (2013). Neural development is dependent on the function of specificity protein 2 in cell cycle progression. Development (Cambridge, England), 140 (3), 552-61 PMID: 23293287

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