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Concept: Developmental biology


Sperm are highly differentiated and the activities that reprogram them for embryonic development during fertilization have historically been considered unique to the oocyte. We here challenge this view and demonstrate that mouse embryos in the mitotic cell cycle can also directly reprogram sperm for full-term development. Developmentally incompetent haploid embryos (parthenogenotes) injected with sperm developed to produce healthy offspring at up to 24% of control rates, depending when in the embryonic cell cycle injection took place. This implies that most of the first embryonic cell cycle can be bypassed in sperm genome reprogramming for full development. Remodelling of histones and genomic 5'-methylcytosine and 5'-hydroxymethylcytosine following embryo injection were distinct from remodelling in fertilization and the resulting 2-cell embryos consistently possessed abnormal transcriptomes. These studies demonstrate plasticity in the reprogramming of terminally differentiated sperm nuclei and suggest that different epigenetic pathways or kinetics can establish totipotency.

Concepts: Meiosis, Genetics, Gene, Developmental biology, Embryology, Zygote, Embryo, Cell nucleus


We recently discovered a novel population of stem cells from the injured murine skeletal muscle. These injury induced muscle-derived stem cell-like cells (iMuSCs) are partially reprogrammed from differentiated myogenic cells and display a pluripotent-like state. The iMuSCs exhibit stem cell properties including the ability to differentiate into multiple lineages, such as neurogenic and myogenic differentiations; they also display a superior migration capacity that demonstrating a strong ability of muscle engraftment in vivo. IMuSCs express several pluripotent and myogenic stem cell markers; have the capability to form embryoid bodies and teratomas, and can differentiate into all three germ layers. Moreover, blastocyst microinjection showed that the iMuSCs contributed to chimeric embryos but could not complete germline transmission. Our results indicate that the iMuSCs are in a partially reprogrammed state of pluripotency, which are generated by the microenvironment of injured skeletal muscle.

Concepts: Multipotency, Cell division, Stem cell marker, Pluripotency, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Stem cell, Developmental biology


Induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) is a primary goal of HIV vaccine development. VRC01-class bnAbs are important vaccine leads because their precursor B cells targeted by an engineered priming immunogen are relatively common among humans. This priming immunogen has demonstrated the ability to initiate a bnAb response in animal models, but recall and maturation toward bnAb development has not been shown. Here, we report the development of boosting immunogens designed to guide the genetic and functional maturation of previously primed VRC01-class precursors. Boosting a transgenic mouse model expressing germline VRC01 heavy chains produced broad neutralization of near-native isolates (N276A) and weak neutralization of fully native HIV. Functional and genetic characteristics indicate that the boosted mAbs are consistent with partially mature VRC01-class antibodies and place them on a maturation trajectory that leads toward mature VRC01-class bnAbs. The results show how reductionist sequential immunization can guide maturation of HIV bnAb responses.

Concepts: Bacteria, Developmental biology, Gene expression, Vaccine, Antibody, Genetics, Antigen, Immune system


Balance arises from the interplay of external forces acting on the body and internally generated movements. Many animal bodies are inherently unstable, necessitating corrective locomotion to maintain stability. Understanding how developing animals come to balance remains a challenge. Here we study the interplay among environment, sensation, and action as balance develops in larval zebrafish. We first model the physical forces that challenge underwater balance and experimentally confirm that larvae are subject to constant destabilization. Larvae propel in swim bouts that, we find, tend to stabilize the body. We confirm the relationship between locomotion and balance by changing larval body composition, exacerbating instability and eliciting more frequent swimming. Intriguingly, developing zebrafish come to control the initiation of locomotion, swimming preferentially when unstable, thus restoring preferred postures. To test the sufficiency of locomotor-driven stabilization and the developing control of movement timing, we incorporate both into a generative model of swimming. Simulated larvae recapitulate observed postures and movement timing across early development, but only when locomotor-driven stabilization and control of movement initiation are both utilized. We conclude the ability to move when unstable is the key developmental improvement to balance in larval zebrafish. Our work informs how emerging sensorimotor ability comes to impact how and why animals move when they do.

Concepts: Force, Fish, Centrifugation, Instability, Stability, Developmental biology


Harmine is the β-carboline alkaloid with the highest concentration in the psychotropic plant decoction Ayahuasca. In rodents, classical antidepressants reverse the symptoms of depression by stimulating neuronal proliferation. It has been shown that Ayahuasca presents antidepressant effects in patients with depressive disorder. In the present study, we investigated the effects of harmine in cell cultures containing human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs, 97% nestin-positive) derived from pluripotent stem cells. After 4 days of treatment, the pool of proliferating hNPCs increased by 71.5%. Harmine has been reported as a potent inhibitor of the dual specificity tyrosine-phosphorylation-regulated kinase (DYRK1A), which regulates cell proliferation and brain development. We tested the effect of analogs of harmine, an inhibitor of DYRK1A (INDY), and an irreversible selective inhibitor of monoamine oxidase (MAO) but not DYRK1A (pargyline). INDY but not pargyline induced proliferation of hNPCs similarly to harmine, suggesting that inhibition of DYRK1A is a possible mechanism to explain harmine effects upon the proliferation of hNPCs. Our findings show that harmine enhances proliferation of hNPCs and suggest that inhibition of DYRK1A may explain its effects upon proliferation in vitro and antidepressant effects in vivo.

Concepts: Neuron, Monoamine oxidase, Serotonin, Stem cell, Monoamine oxidase inhibitor, Progenitor cell, Developmental biology, Cell biology


Synthetic biology has advanced the design of standardized transcription control devices that programme cellular behaviour. By coupling synthetic signalling cascade- and transcription factor-based gene switches with reverse and differential sensitivity to the licensed food additive vanillic acid, we designed a synthetic lineage-control network combining vanillic acid-triggered mutually exclusive expression switches for the transcription factors Ngn3 (neurogenin 3; OFF-ON-OFF) and Pdx1 (pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1; ON-OFF-ON) with the concomitant induction of MafA (V-maf musculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma oncogene homologue A; OFF-ON). This designer network consisting of different network topologies orchestrating the timely control of transgenic and genomic Ngn3, Pdx1 and MafA variants is able to programme human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs)-derived pancreatic progenitor cells into glucose-sensitive insulin-secreting beta-like cells, whose glucose-stimulated insulin-release dynamics are comparable to human pancreatic islets. Synthetic lineage-control networks may provide the missing link to genetically programme somatic cells into autologous cell phenotypes for regenerative medicine.

Concepts: DNA, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Transcription factor, Gene expression, Gene, Genetics, Stem cell, Developmental biology


Here we report a unique cellular reprogramming phenomenon, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), which requires neither nuclear transfer nor the introduction of transcription factors. In STAP, strong external stimuli such as a transient low-pH stressor reprogrammed mammalian somatic cells, resulting in the generation of pluripotent cells. Through real-time imaging of STAP cells derived from purified lymphocytes, as well as gene rearrangement analysis, we found that committed somatic cells give rise to STAP cells by reprogramming rather than selection. STAP cells showed a substantial decrease in DNA methylation in the regulatory regions of pluripotency marker genes. Blastocyst injection showed that STAP cells efficiently contribute to chimaeric embryos and to offspring via germline transmission. We also demonstrate the derivation of robustly expandable pluripotent cell lines from STAP cells. Thus, our findings indicate that epigenetic fate determination of mammalian cells can be markedly converted in a context-dependent manner by strong environmental cues.

Concepts: Epigenetics, Cell biology, DNA methylation, Gene, Developmental biology, Genetics, Gene expression, DNA


Salamanders are the only tetrapods capable of fully regenerating their limbs throughout their entire lives. Much data on the underlying molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration have been gathered in recent years allowing for new comparative studies between salamanders and other tetrapods that lack this unique regenerative potential. By contrast, the evolution of animal regeneration just recently shifted back into focus, despite being highly relevant for research designs aiming to unravel the factors allowing for limb regeneration. We show that the 300-million-year-old temnospondyl amphibian Micromelerpeton, a distant relative of modern amphibians, was already capable of regenerating its limbs. A number of exceptionally well-preserved specimens from fossil deposits show a unique pattern and combination of abnormalities in their limbs that is distinctive of irregular regenerative activity in modern salamanders and does not occur as variants of normal limb development. This demonstrates that the capacity to regenerate limbs is not a derived feature of modern salamanders, but may be an ancient feature of non-amniote tetrapods and possibly even shared by all bony fish. The finding provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of regenerative capacity of paired appendages in vertebrates in the search for conserved versus derived molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration.

Concepts: Labyrinthodontia, Developmental biology, Regeneration, Amphibian, Salamander, Lissamphibia, Tetrapod


Nonviral conversion of skin or blood cells into clinically useful human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) occurs in only rare fractions (∼0.001%-0.5%) of donor cells transfected with non-integrating reprogramming factors. Pluripotency induction of developmentally immature stem-progenitors is generally more efficient than differentiated somatic cell targets. However, the nature of augmented progenitor reprogramming remains obscure, and its potential has not been fully explored for improving the extremely slow pace of non-integrated reprogramming. Here, we report highly optimized four-factor reprogramming of lineage-committed cord blood (CB) myeloid progenitors with bulk efficiencies of ∼50% in purified episome-expressing cells. Lineage-committed CD33(+)CD45(+)CD34(-) myeloid cells and not primitive hematopoietic stem-progenitors were the main targets of a rapid and nearly complete non-integrated reprogramming. The efficient conversion of mature myeloid populations into NANOG(+)TRA-1-81(+) hiPSC was mediated by synergies between hematopoietic growth factor (GF), stromal activation signals, and episomal Yamanaka factor expression. Using a modular bioinformatics approach, we demonstrated that efficient myeloid reprogramming correlated not to increased proliferation or endogenous Core factor expressions, but to poised expression of GF-activated transcriptional circuits that commonly regulate plasticity in both hematopoietic progenitors and embryonic stem cells (ESC). Factor-driven conversion of myeloid progenitors to a high-fidelity pluripotent state was further accelerated by soluble and contact-dependent stromal signals that included an implied and unexpected role for Toll receptor-NFκB signaling. These data provide a paradigm for understanding the augmented reprogramming capacity of somatic progenitors, and reveal that efficient induced pluripotency in other cell types may also require extrinsic activation of a molecular framework that commonly regulates self-renewal and differentiation in both hematopoietic progenitors and ESC.

Concepts: Cell biology, Pluripotency, Developmental biology, Cellular differentiation, Stem cells, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Stem cell


The integumentary organ system is a complex system that plays important roles in waterproofing, cushioning, protecting deeper tissues, excreting waste, and thermoregulation. We developed a novel in vivo transplantation model designated as a clustering-dependent embryoid body transplantation method and generated a bioengineered three-dimensional (3D) integumentary organ system, including appendage organs such as hair follicles and sebaceous glands, from induced pluripotent stem cells. This bioengineered 3D integumentary organ system was fully functional following transplantation into nude mice and could be properly connected to surrounding host tissues, such as the epidermis, arrector pili muscles, and nerve fibers, without tumorigenesis. The bioengineered hair follicles in the 3D integumentary organ system also showed proper hair eruption and hair cycles, including the rearrangement of follicular stem cells and their niches. Potential applications of the 3D integumentary organ system include an in vitro assay system, an animal model alternative, and a bioengineered organ replacement therapy.

Concepts: In vitro, Sebaceous gland, Developmental biology, Organ, Stem cells, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Skin, Stem cell