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Key to Naivety

Signalling molecule called TGF-β is key to maintaining the ability of stem cells to become any cell type

17 December 2021

Key to Naivety

Naïve embryonic stem cells represent the very earliest stages of human development. Understanding these first events of an embryo could potentially improve cell-based therapies and IVF treatment in the future. However, to do that, researchers need to have a stable population of cells to grow in the lab. The key to maintaining a naïve stem cell identity appears to be a signalling molecule called TGF-β. By growing naïve stem cells in cell culture medium with TGF-β, protein messengers help to switch on other genes crucial to maintaining naivety. By blocking this key signalling molecule, naïve embryonic stem cells lose their characteristic pluripotency – the ability to become any cell type. Instead, they start to become more limited cell types such as trophoblast stem cells – the precursors to the cells that develop into the placenta (top row) – or more specialised early placental cells (bottom two rows, different proteins highlighted in different colours).

Written by Sophie Arthur

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