A particular class of natural metabolites poise stem cells for differentiation based on a variety of cues. This finding, published this week in Nature Chemical Biology, places new emphasis on the role of metabolites in stem cell behavior and may be important in controlling stem cell function for biotechnological purposes.
Previous stem cell work has focused heavily on understanding what genes are being turned on or off, and correspondingly what proteins are present that may control cellular function. Metabolites ― the small molecules created and destroyed in the normal biochemical processes of the cell ― have not been similarly investigated.
Gary Siuzdak, Sheng Ding, and colleagues report on a metabolomics analysis of stem cells, in which they look at the concentrations of many known metabolites to determine which compounds are present in stem cells as compared to differentiated cells. They find that stem cells have a high number of oxidized compounds; manipulation of these particular molecules is also shown to affect stem cell differentiation.