Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

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


Hair differentiates from follicle stem cells through progenitor cells in the matrix. In contrast to stem cells in the bulge, the identities of the progenitors and the mechanisms by which they regulate hair shaft components are poorly understood. Hair is also pigmented by melanocytes in the follicle. However, the niche that regulates follicular melanocytes is not well characterized. Here, we report the identification of hair shaft progenitors in the matrix that are differentiated from follicular epithelial cells expressing transcription factor KROX20. Depletion of Krox20 lineage cells results in arrest of hair growth, confirming the critical role of KROX20(+) cells as antecedents of structural cells found in hair. Expression of stem cell factor (SCF) by these cells is necessary for the maintenance of differentiated melanocytes and for hair pigmentation. Our findings reveal the identities of hair matrix progenitors that regulate hair growth and pigmentation, partly by creating an SCF-dependent niche for follicular melanocytes.

Concepts: Cell division, Stem cell, Cell biology, DNA, Protein, Gene expression, Cellular differentiation, 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


Our understanding of the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders remains limited, and biomarker-based clinical management is yet to be developed. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology has revolutionized our capacity to generate patient-derived neurons to model psychiatric disorders. Here, we highlight advantages and caveats of iPSC disease modeling and outline strategies for addressing current challenges.

Concepts: Medicine, Pluripotency, Cell biology, Developmental biology, Stem cells, Psychiatry, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Stem cell


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


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


During development, coordinated cell behaviors orchestrate tissue and organ morphogenesis. Detailed descriptions of cell lineages and behaviors provide a powerful framework to elucidate the mechanisms of morphogenesis. To study the cellular basis of limb development, we imaged transgenic fluorescently-labeled embryos from the crustaceanParhyale hawaiensiswith multi-view light-sheet microscopy at high spatiotemporal resolution over several days of embryogenesis. The cell lineage of outgrowing thoracic limbs was reconstructed at single-cell resolution with new software called Massive Multi-view Tracker (MaMuT).In silicoclonal analyses suggested that the early limb primordium becomes subdivided into anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral compartments whose boundaries intersect at the distal tip of the growing limb. Limb-bud formation is associated with spatial modulation of cell proliferation, while limb elongation is also driven by preferential orientation of cell divisions along the proximal-distal growth axis. Cellular reconstructions were predictive of the expression patterns of limb development genes including the BMP morphogen Decapentaplegic.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Cell, Cell division, Embryo, DNA, Cellular differentiation, Gene expression, Developmental biology


Cognition is one of the most flexible tools enabling adaptation to environmental variation. Living close to humans is thought to influence social as well as physical cognition of animals throughout domestication and ontogeny. Here, we investigated to what extent physical cognition and two domains of social cognition of dogs have been affected by domestication and ontogeny. To address the effects of domestication, we compared captive wolves (n = 12) and dogs (n = 14) living in packs under the same conditions. To explore developmental effects, we compared these dogs to pet dogs (n = 12) living in human families. The animals were faced with a series of object-choice tasks, in which their response to communicative, behavioural and causal cues was tested. We observed that wolves outperformed dogs in their ability to follow causal cues, suggesting that domestication altered specific skills relating to this domain, whereas developmental effects had surprisingly no influence. All three groups performed similarly in the communicative and behavioural conditions, suggesting higher ontogenetic flexibility in the two social domains. These differences across cognitive domains need to be further investigated, by comparing domestic and non-domesticated animals living in varying conditions.

Concepts: Face perception, Dog, Human, Developmental biology, Thought, Mind, Cognition, Psychology