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Cells in most organisms, including humans, move from the stage of pluripotency to specialization. After the formation of a zygote, which can differentiate into a whole organism, further divisions continue. Pluripotent cells like embryonic stem cells are formed as cell division continues. Specialized cells are produced by turning some genes on and turning others off. Pluripotent cells may be found in adult tissues, and can also be artificially generated.
Some cells like skin and blood cells can be changed back into pluripotent cells. From there, different types of human cells can be generated for therapeutic purposes. Neurological disorders, diabetes mellitus, and even cancers like leukemia can be treated by the generation of new cells to replace the damaged cells. This is possible because of the ability of the pluripotent cells to differentiate into various types of cells. They also have regenerative abilities.
The modifier of the genomic landscape
The human NANOG protein is a transcription factor that helps the cells of the body to maintain pluripotency. It can change specialized cells back into pluripotent states. It was in a bid to find out how this protein achieves this feat that a team at Baylor College of Medicine, carried out a study.
The need for chromatin rearrangement and modification of gene expression to achieve pluripotency for specialized cells cannot be overemphasized. This modification in the expression of genes can be achieved by bringing closer, elements of DNA that are distant. The protein can carry out all these processes that make for pluripotency. According to the research, the NANOG protein has the quality of being excessively sticky leading to aggregate formation. The aggregate, in turn, interacts with chromatin causing the bridging of DNA. This interaction, together with the protein’s flexibility and its C-terminal, all contribute to the production of pluripotent cells. According to the study, NANOG in high levels promoted pluripotency while low levels favored the differentiation of cells.
The similarity between the aggregates formed by NANOG and amyloids was also noted. These aggregates are useful in some functions of cells like the condensation of chromatin and expression of genes. Though, the aggregates of amyloids have an association with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, those belonging to NANOG are useful instead.
In this study, the ease with which the protein forms aggregates posed a challenge. Hence, the use of nano and picomoles of the protein. The use of Fluorescent fluctuation microscopy also helped to overcome this challenge. Despite all these, some aggregates of NANOG were still noted.
In another study by Ching-Chi Chang et al, an increase in NANOG expression in rats with Alzheimer’s disease was observed to be beneficial. It reduced the resistance to insulin in the neurons of those rats. This resulted in a decrease in superoxide accumulation and cell aging, thereby increasing cell survival. An increase in neurotrophic factor secretion, as well as improved learning and memory, were also noted.
However, there is a need to find out more about NANOG’s ability to modify the landscape of the genome.
Pluripotent cells are important in modern medicine. They can be used in the discovery of drugs and regenerative therapy. Understanding what keeps the cells in a pluripotent state is essential in the production of these cells. Hence, the NANOG protein, which is a transcription factor responsible for maintaining pluripotency of cells, is a very important factor that should be explored.
The protective role that NANOG played in Alzheimer’s disease is also desirable. Thus, there is a need to study the various applications of the protein.
This study has laid a strong foundation that, when built upon, can bring a solution to many diseases and help in drug discovery.