| By Tim Sandle |
May 5, 2012 in Science
New findings indicate that embryonic stem cells, at the early stage of development, can shut-down if there is a risk that genetic damage may occur which could harm the development of the embryo.
Embryonic stem cells are important for the development of human life. These particular stem cells give rise to every cell type in the human body. Scientists have recently discovered something extra special about these types of cells, which has been revealed in a study published in the journal Molecular Cell: a self-destruct mechanism.
As detailed in a research summary, the science team was led by Mohanish Deshmukh, PhD, professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Deshmukh found that when DNA damage occurs in the embryonic stem cells they destroy themselves. DNA damage can be caused by factors like radiation, viruses and chemicals. This was demonstrated through some studies where human embryonic stem cells were treated with a DNA-damaging chemical. The stem cells destroyed themselves by triggering a dormant protein called Bax, which, when activated, destroys the cell by instructing all proteins to stop working and the cell effectively shuts down.
Newswire notes that, at present, it appears that the activation of the Bax protein only works during the first few days of stem cell development. After the cells advance the mechanism stops working.
The findings are not just of academic interest. Understanding this new mechanism within stem cells could lead to applications whereby neurons can be grown or new cells made to replace cells or neural pathways which have been lost or damaged in people who have neurological diseases like Parkinson's.
For reference, the paper in which the study is detailed is:
Raluca Dumitru et al. Human Embryonic Stem Cells Have Constitutively Active Bax at the Golgi and Are Primed to Undergo Rapid Apoptosis. Molecular Cell, 2012