A team of researchers at the IRCM, supervised by Dr. Jacques Drouin, reprogrammed the identity of cells in the pituitary gland and identified critical mechanisms of epigenetic cell programming. This important discovery, published yesterday by the scientific journal Genes & Development, could eventually lead to new pharmacological targets for the treatment of Cushing's disease.
Dr. Drouin's team studies the pituitary gland, which is the master gland located at the base of the skull that secretes hormones to control all other glands of the endocrine system. Disruption of pituitary functions has dire consequences on growth, reproduction and metabolism.
Within the pituitary gland, each hormone is produced by cells of a different lineage. Unique cell identities are created by cell-specific genetic programs that are implemented during development. Appropriate cell programming is a critical process that needs to be harnessed in order to exploit the therapeutic benefits of stem cell research.
In their work, the IRCM researchers showed that the transcription factor Pax7 has pioneering abilities, meaning that it is able to open the tightly-packed chromatin structure of specific regions of the genome. This unmasking of a subset of the genome's regulatory sequences changes the genome's response to differentiation signals such that different cell types are generated.