Cell communication is of key importance in multicellular organisms. The coordinated development of tissues in the embryo to become any specific organ requires that cells receive signals and respond accordingly. If there are errors in the signals, the cell will respond differently, possibly leading to diseases such as cancer. The communication signals which are used in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) activate a chain of reactions (called the extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) pathway) within each cell, causing the cell to respond by activating genetic information.
Scientists at A*A*STAR‘s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPIMG) in Berlin (Germany) have discovered a molecular network in hESCs that integrates cell communication signals to keep the cell in its stem cell state.
ELK1, an additional protein involved in ERK pathway, has bi-directional role: it activates the genetic information by interacting with ERK2 and at the same time has the opposite function as well i.e., has the ability to silence genetic information and thus keeps the cell in its undifferentiated state.
The authors propose a model that integrates this bi-directional control to keep the cell in the stem cell state.
Authors say that these findings are particularly relevant for stem cell research, but they might also help research in other related fields.