Stem cells communicate with each other and their environment. In fact, how they communicate is pretty fascinating as they can take on the role of everything from a general contractor to a zombie maker. Now a new study shows that they can also build nano bridges between themselves to better refine their world.
Stem cell communication may hold part of the key to how these cells help repair tissue. For example, paracrine signaling is when a stem cell releases chemical signals to other cells to in effect, bark out orders. For example, the stem cell may want to bring in more macrophage cells who can then clean up the debris and junk in an injury site. Another way stem cells communicate is down right Walking Dead type weird. The stem cell can release little packets of genetic instructions that can merge with another cell and hijack it’s cellular machinery to force that cell to pump out chemicals the stem cell needs or wants. In essence, creating a cellular zombie! Now a new study adds another way these dynamic cells communicate-by building nanotube bridges between one another.
The findings out of the University of Michigan were found by accident by a graduate student who noticed barely visible connections between stem cells in fruit flies. They discovered that these nanotubes carry important chemical messages over short distances between cells. They also noted that when you get rid of them, the stem cells suffer, suggesting that they are important in maintaining a local community of stem cells called a “niche”.
The upshot? There are many methods of stem cell communication and this newest method opens up another possibility that may help explain why stem cells need each other to survive. For example, several studies have shown that when stem cells are trapped in a dense scaffold like fibrin glue and can’t physically touch each other, they often die. It now appears that this is due to more than just wanting to cuddle, but to the fact that they may need physical contact for some types of communication and for their overall health!