How Stem Cells Make Decisions

Pluripotency is a feature of stem cell populations in which individual cells must know a great deal about their surroundings.

October 18, 2019
Dividing cells
Dividing cells

If you’re a human embryonic stem cell — and who among us hasn’t been — the G1 (“Gap 1”) phase of development is an important time.

For the first few hours of this phase that occurs within the larger process of the cycle of cell division, you’re deliberating the nature of your existence: Will you keep your options open and remain pluripotent, that is, capable of developing into any type of cell? Or will you commit to becoming part of the tissue that eventually becomes the brain, bone, muscle, or gut?

This crossroads in the cell cycle has been of particular interest to neuroscientist Kenneth Kosik and his research group as they investigate how undifferentiated stem cells take their paths to becoming the specific tissues that comprise the human body, particularly those that become neural precursors.

“If you’re making a tough decision, it takes a little time,” said Kosik, the Harriman Professor of Neuroscience Research in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.