The findings of the scientists of the Institute of Diabetes and Regeneration Research (IDR) at Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) provide new insights into the molecular regulation of stem cell differentiation. These results reveal important target structures for regenerative therapy approaches to chronic diseases such as diabetes.
During embryonic development, organ-specific cell types are formed from pluripotent stem cells, which can differentiate into all cell types of the human body. The pluripotent cells of the embryo organize themselves at an early stage in germ layers: the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm. From these three cell populations different functional tissue cells arise, such as skin cells, muscle cells, and specific organ cells.
Various signaling pathways are important for this germ layer organization, including the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. The cells of the pancreas, such as the beta cells, originate from the endoderm, the germ layer from which the gastrointestinal tract, the liver and the lungs also arise. Professor Heiko Lickert, director of the IDR, in collaboration with Professor Gunnar Schotta of LMU München, showed that the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway regulates Sox17, which in turn regulates molecular programs that assign pluripotent cells to the endoderm, thus inducing an initial differentiation of the stem cells.