As many may already be aware, specialised cell types in organisms, such as red blood cells or skin epithelial cells, have contrasting lineages and are differentiated from unspecialised cells termed ‘stem cells’. In developing embryos, these stem cells migrate and undergo sequential differentiation to develop the cells, tissues and organs required for survival. Developmental biologists often track and study these cells in their research to better understand how different tissue types change in embryogenesis. Today, researchers from the School of Biological Sciences at the UEA have announced that they have managed to identify two molecules that guide embryonic heart-forming cells to the correct location within the organism.
The research led by Professor Andrea Münsterberg and funded by the British Heart foundation, has found that these cardiac-only stem cells termed ‘cardiac progenitors’ are guided to their appropriate location by using fluorescent dyes in chick embryos and tracking cell movements using bright field and fluorescence microscopy. Images were taken every 6 minutes over a period of 20 to 24 hours. Professor Münsterberg said: “We have identified two important molecules which work together to control the correct migration of these cells. They do this by responding to signals, which help the cells navigate their way together.” She added that: “Exactly how the cardiac progenitor cells are guided in their movement by these external signals is still unclear, but we have identified two key players that are important in this process”.
The paper, entitled ‘Smad1 transcription factor integrates BMP2 and Wnt3a signals in migrating cardiac progenitor cells’, is featured in the The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is hoped that this discovery and subsequent research will help to better understand how many congenital heart conditions, such as atrial septal defect and hypoplastic left heart syndrome, arise in pregnancy.