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Now, researchers at The Rockefeller University have identified a new mechanism by which cells are instructed during development to become stem cells. The results, published in Cell on January 14, help explain how communication between cells mediates this process, and may have implications for skin cancer treatments.

"While adult stem cells are increasingly well-characterized, we know little about their origins. Here, we show that in the skin, stem cell progenitors of the hair follicle are specified as soon as the cells within the single-layered embryonic epidermis begin to divide downward to form an embryonic hair bud," explains Elaine Fuchs, Robin Chemers Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development. "This timing was much earlier than previously thought, and gives us new insights into the establishment of these very special cells."

Which came first, the stem cell or the niche?

Clusters of stem cells receive signals from other nearby cells that instruct them to either stay a stem cell, or differentiate into a specific cell type. These instructive groups of cells, called the "niche," are known to maintain adult stem cell populations. Less well understood is how the niche forms, or when and where stem cells first appear during embryonic development.

"Adult stem cells are dependent on the niche for instructions on both how to become a stem cell, and how to control stem cell population size," says first author Tamara Ouspenskaia. "The question was, does the niche appear first and call other cells over to become stem cells? Or is it the other way around? Stem cells could be appearing elsewhere first and then recruiting the niche."

Read More: Sciencedaily

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