March 4, 2011

Chasing Foxd3’s role in stem cells

Researchers use genetic manipulations in mice and single-cell analyses to help explain stem cell regulation.

Developing stem cell-based therapies to repair damaged tissues requires a clear understanding of the factors that maintain stem cell populations.

Graduate student Nathan Mundell and Patricia Labosky explored the role of the factor Foxd3 in neural crest cells, a population of cells that gives rise to a wide range of tissues including neurons, smooth muscle cells, and bone.

In the Feb. 15 issue of Development, they report that Foxd3 maintains neural crest cell multipotency (ability to become multiple adult tissues) and self-renewal. Mouse neural crest cells missing the Foxd3 gene did not develop into neural cell types and instead, formed smooth muscle cells in abnormal locations. Using single-cell analyses, the researchers found that Foxd3 suppressed neural crest cell differentiation into muscle-type cells and maintained neural crest in an uncommitted state.

The results add to previous studies from this team, which showed that Foxd3 maintains embryonic and trophoblast stem cell populations as well. Together, the findings suggest that Foxd3 may be a fundamental regulator of “stemness.”