Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have uncovered new information about the abilities of embryonic stem cells and their potential for future treatments. The study, which shows the ability of embryonic stem cells to renew themselves indefinitely, and differentiate into all types of mature cells, was conducted by Dr. Eran Meshorer, head of the lab at the Department of Genetics at HU's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, and PhD student Shai Melcer. It focused on epigenetic pathways that were specific to embryonic stem cells, and chromatin.
The researchers examined the mechanisms that support an “open” chromatin conformation in embryonic stem cells. Chromatin, which is comprised of a cell's proteins and DNA, is also the molecular basis for the mechanism that causes biological changes without changing the DNA sequence.
The findings of their study, which appear in the journal Nature Communications, indicate that chromatin plasticity is tantamount to functional plasticity, since chromatin is made up of DNA that includes all genes and codes for all proteins in any living cell. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate chromatin function will enable intelligent manipulations of embryonic stem cells in the future, the scientists said.
"If we can apply this new understanding about the mechanisms that give embryonic stem cells their plasticity, then we can increase or decrease the dynamics of the proteins that bind DNA and thereby increase or decrease the cells’ differentiation potential," said Meshorer. “This could expedite the use of embryonic stem cells in cell therapy and regenerative medicine, by enabling the creation of cells in the laboratory which could be implanted in humans to cure diseases characterized by cell death, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and other degenerative diseases.”
The research was funded by grants from the European Union (ERC, Marie Curie), Israel Science Foundation, Ministry of Science, Ministry of Health, The National Institute for Psychobiology, Israel Cancer Research Foundation (ICRF), Abisch-Frenkel Foundation and Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP).