4. The Adult Stem Cell [Stem Cell Information]

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May 06 2015

For many years, researchers have been seeking to understand the body's ability to repair and replace the cells and tissues of some organs, but not others. After years of work pursuing the how and why of seemingly indiscriminant cell repair mechanisms, scientists have now focused their attention on adult stem cells. It has long been known that stem cells are capable of renewing themselves and that they can generate multiple cell types. Today, there is new evidence that stem cells are present in far more tissues and organs than once thought and that these cells are capable of developing into more kinds of cells than previously imagined. Efforts are now underway to harness stem cells and to take advantage of this new found capability, with the goal of devising new and more effective treatments for a host of diseases and disabilities. What lies ahead for the use of adult stem cells is unknown, but it is certain that there are many research questions to be answered and that these answers hold great promise for the future.

Adult stem cells, like all stem cells, share at least two characteristics. First, they can make identical copies of themselves for long periods of time; this ability to proliferate is referred to as long-term self-renewal. Second, they can give rise to mature cell types that have characteristic morphologies (shapes) and specialized functions. Typically, stem cells generate an intermediate cell type or types before they achieve their fully differentiated state. The intermediate cell is called a precursor or progenitor cell. Progenitor or precursor cells in fetal or adult tissues are partly differentiated cells that divide and give rise to differentiated cells. Such cells are usually regarded as "committed" to differentiating along a particular cellular development pathway, although this characteristic may not be as definitive as once thought [82] (see Figure 4.1. Distinguishing Features of Progenitor/Precursor Cells and Stem Cells).

Figure 4.1. Distinguishing Features of Progenitor/Precursor Cells and Stem Cells. A stem cell is an unspecialized cell that is capable of replicating or self renewing itself and developing into specialized cells of a variety of cell types. The product of a stem cell undergoing division is at least one additional stem cell that has the same capabilities of the originating cell. Shown here is an example of a hematopoietic stem cell producing a second generation stem cell and a neuron. A progenitor cell (also known as a precursor cell) is unspecialized or has partial characteristics of a specialized cell that is capable of undergoing cell division and yielding two specialized cells. Shown here is an example of a myeloid progenitor/precursor undergoing cell division to yield two specialized cells (a neutrophil and a red blood cell).

( 2001 Terese Winslow, Lydia Kibiuk)

Adult stem cells are rare. Their primary functions are to maintain the steady state functioning of a cellcalled homeostasisand, with limitations, to replace cells that die because of injury or disease [44, 58]. For example, only an estimated 1 in 10,000 to 15,000 cells in the bone marrow is a hematopoietic (bloodforming) stem cell (HSC) [105]. Furthermore, adult stem cells are dispersed in tissues throughout the mature animal and behave very differently, depending on their local environment. For example, HSCs are constantly being generated in the bone marrow where they differentiate into mature types of blood cells. Indeed, the primary role of HSCs is to replace blood cells [26] (see Chapter 5. Hematopoietic Stem Cells). In contrast, stem cells in the small intestine are stationary, and are physically separated from the mature cell types they generate. Gut epithelial stem cells (or precursors) occur at the bases of cryptsdeep invaginations between the mature, differentiated epithelial cells that line the lumen of the intestine. These epithelial crypt cells divide fairly often, but remain part of the stationary group of cells they generate [93].

Unlike embryonic stem cells, which are defined by their origin (the inner cell mass of the blastocyst), adult stem cells share no such definitive means of characterization. In fact, no one knows the origin of adult stem cells in any mature tissue. Some have proposed that stem cells are somehow set aside during fetal development and restrained from differentiating. Definitions of adult stem cells vary in the scientific literature range from a simple description of the cells to a rigorous set of experimental criteria that must be met before characterizing a particular cell as an adult stem cell. Most of the information about adult stem cells comes from studies of mice. The list of adult tissues reported to contain stem cells is growing and includes bone marrow, peripheral blood, brain, spinal cord, dental pulp, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, epithelia of the skin and digestive system, cornea, retina, liver, and pancreas.

In order to be classified as an adult stem cell, the cell should be capable of self-renewal for the lifetime of the organism. This criterion, although fundamental to the nature of a stem cell, is difficult to prove in vivo. It is nearly impossible, in an organism as complex as a human, to design an experiment that will allow the fate of candidate adult stem cells to be identified in vivo and tracked over an individual's entire lifetime.

Ideally, adult stem cells should also be clonogenic. In other words, a single adult stem cell should be able to generate a line of genetically identical cells, which then gives rise to all the appropriate, differentiated cell types of the tissue in which it resides. Again, this property is difficult to demonstrate in vivo; in practice, scientists show either that a stem cell is clonogenic in vitro, or that a purified population of candidate stem cells can repopulate the tissue.

An adult stem cell should also be able to give rise to fully differentiated cells that have mature phenotypes, are fully integrated into the tissue, and are capable of specialized functions that are appropriate for the tissue. The term phenotype refers to all the observable characteristics of a cell (or organism); its shape (morphology); interactions with other cells and the non-cellular environment (also called the extracellular matrix); proteins that appear on the cell surface (surface markers); and the cell's behavior (e.g., secretion, contraction, synaptic transmission).

The majority of researchers who lay claim to having identified adult stem cells rely on two of these characteristicsappropriate cell morphology, and the demonstration that the resulting, differentiated cell types display surface markers that identify them as belonging to the tissue. Some studies demonstrate that the differentiated cells that are derived from adult stem cells are truly functional, and a few studies show that cells are integrated into the differentiated tissue in vivo and that they interact appropriately with neighboring cells. At present, there is, however, a paucity of research, with a few notable exceptions, in which researchers were able to conduct studies of genetically identical (clonal) stem cells. In order to fully characterize the regenerating and self-renewal capabilities of the adult stem cell, and therefore to truly harness its potential, it will be important to demonstrate that a single adult stem cell can, indeed, generate a line of genetically identical cells, which then gives rise to all the appropriate, differentiated cell types of the tissue in which it resides.

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4. The Adult Stem Cell [Stem Cell Information]

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