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Harnessing epithelial stem cell potency

Mechanisms of Development
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.mod.2009.06.1027
  • Computer Science
  • Medicine


Increase in potency of adult stem/progenitor cells holds great expectations for regenerative medicine; reprogramming is achieved by manipulating the genome or indirectly by manipulating the microenvironment. However, the genetic approach, which can result in lineage conversion up to ground pluripotent embryonic state, will certainly face strict regulatory constraints and consequently translation to the clinic may be difficult. Manipulating stem cell fate without altering the genome of adult stem cells is a promising alternative. My laboratory has demonstrated that non hairy squamous epithelia e.g. the cornea, the oral cavity, the oesophagus, the vagina, contain clonogenic stem cells that can respond to skin morphogenetic signals and form epidermis, cycling hair follicles and sebaceous glands. This capacity is maintained in serial transplantation, crosses primary germ line boundaries and is intrinsic to the stem cells, as cells which have never been exposed to cell culture behave in a similar fashion. Even more surprising, the thymus contains a population of clonogenic epithelial cells of endodermal origin that maintain a thymic identity in culture and have the capacity to incorporate into a thymic network, but can acquire the functionality of bona fide multipotent stem cells of the skin when exposed to proper developmental signals. Thymic epithelial cells exposed to a skin microenvironment exhibit a down-regulation or silencing of transcription factors important for thymic function. Hence, it is possible to reveal unsuspected potency and even to robustly reprogram stem cells by solely manipulating the microenvironment.

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