Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Scientists decode the first embryonic cell movements

Biologists from the University of Freiburg, Germany just made an announcement saying that they have identified, in a zebrafish model, a signalling molecule that activates the first cell movements in the embryo, explaining the deeper molecular mechanisms which transform the initially tightly connected embryonic stem cells so that their very first cell migration takes place.

Cell migration is a broad term, used for multicellular organisms, referring to various processes that involve the movement of cells from one location to another. Cell migration is of great importance as it is involved in many different processes including:
  • Embryonic development
  • Wound healing
  • Immune response

A coordinated cell movement is essential for the proper function of the aforementioned processes and any errors can cause serious consequences like tumour formation, mental retardation and vascular disease. Studies on these mechanisms, like this one, may greatly help in the development of many novel therapies, for example in the battle against cancer.

During the very first cell divisions of a fertilised egg, the cells are tightly connected so that the embryo doesn't break apart. Soon after, these tight connections have to loosen as the cells need to migrate in order to form the three germ layers.

In this study, the researchers found that Oct4 (also known as POU5F1) controls the synthesis of a signal, the epidermal growth factor (EGF). EGF controls the transport of the crucial cell adhesion molecule E-Cadherin from the cell membrane to the interior of the cell in endosomes.

Image of a human embryo 3 days after fertilization (8 cells)
Human embryo 3 days after fertilisation, comprised of 8 cells

These mechanisms regulate the activity of E-Cadherin at the cell membrane and enable cells to dynamically form new connections and start to move.

"Pou5f1 regulates EGF expression during oogenesis"

 "EGFR signaling controls E-cadherin trafficking at blastula and gastrula stages"

"E-cadherin subcellular trafficking controls adhesion and cell migration "
"Dynamics of E-cadherin adhesion is essential for effective cell migration"  Highlights from the abstract

According to the researchers, their findings have implications in cancer research, specifically in understanding how various mechanisms involved in cancer metastasis work. They say that the study may also be useful for studying the properties of cancer stem cells.

Song, S., Eckerle, S., Onichtchouk, D., Marrs, J., Nitschke, R., & Driever, W. (2013). Pou5f1-Dependent EGF Expression Controls E-Cadherin Endocytosis, Cell Adhesion, and Zebrafish Epiboly Movements Developmental Cell, 24 (5), 486-501 DOI: 10.1016/j.devcel.2013.01.016

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