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Stem cell differentiation involves the changing of a cell to a more specialized cell type, involving a switch from proliferation to specialization. This involves a succession of alterations in cell morphometry, membrane potential, metabolic activity and signal responsiveness.
Stem cell differentiation involves the changing of a cell to a more specialized cell type, involving a switch from proliferation to specialization. This involves a succession of alterations in cell morphometry, membrane potential, metabolic activity and responsiveness to certain signals. Differentiation leads to the commitment of a cell to developmental lineages and the acquisition of specific functions of committed cells depending upon the tissue in which they will finally reside. Stem cell differentiation is tightly regulated by signaling pathways and modifications in gene expression.
Stem cells can be categorized into groups depending on their ability to differentiate.
Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent cells that differentiate as a result of signaling mechanisms. These are tightly controlled by most growth factors, cytokines and epigenetic processes such as DNA methylation and chromatin remodeling. ESCs divide into two cells: one is a duplicate stem cell (the process of self-renewal) and the other daughter cell is one which will differentiate. The daughter cells divides and after each division it becomes more specialized. When it reaches a mature cell type downstream (for example, becomes a red blood cell) it will no longer divide. The ability of ESCs to differentiate is currently being researched for the treatment of many diseases including Parkinson's disease and cancer.
Adult or 'somatic' stem cells are thought to be undifferentiated. Their primary role is to self-renew and maintain or repair the tissue in which they reside.
Written by Kirsty E. Clarke, Victoria B. Christie, Andy Whiting and Stefan A. Przyborski, this review provides an overview of the use of small molecules in the control of stem cell growth and differentiation. Key signaling pathways are highlighted, and the regulation of ES cell self-renewal and somatic cell reprogramming is discussed. Compounds available from Tocris are listed.