Understanding the genetic underpinnings of the biology of stem cells is crucial for their use in disease research and treatment. Scientists have identified a variety of genetic factors that maintain self renewal properties in embryonic, fetal, and adult stem cells. But whether these cell types are controlled by the same or different molecules is a persisting question.
Recent work from HSCI Principal Faculty Konrad Hochedlinger, PhD, begins to crack that mystery. Sox2 is a gene whose expression is required for maintaining pluripotency in early embryonic cells and regulating tissue development in the fetal stage. But until now, Sox2 expression had only been observed fleetingly in a few adult stem cells.
Hochedlinger and his team have shown that Sox2 is nearly pervasive among adult stem cells, absent in only a few tissue types such as muscle, blood, and heart. The work, which establishes Sox2 as the only known factor to control self renewal across all three stem cell types, provides fertile ground for a variety of investigations.
In particular, since Sox2 expression can be seen as a marker for adult stem cells, it may provide an easier way to isolate and manipulate the otherwise difficult cellular population. Additionally, manipulating Sox2 expression could help generate particular adult stem cell types from embryonic stem cells, as well as particular desired tissue types from adult stem cells.