March 25, 2015 .
Stem cells can have a strong sense of identity. Taken out of their home in the hair follicle, for example, and grown in culture, these cells remain true to themselves. After waiting in limbo, these cultured cells become capable of regenerating follicles and other skin structures once transplanted back into skin. It’s not clear just how these stem cells—and others elsewhere in the body—retain their ability to produce new tissue and heal wounds, even under extraordinary conditions.
New research at Rockefeller University has identified a protein, Sox9, that takes the lead in controlling stem cell plasticity. In a paper published on March 18 in Nature, the team describes Sox9 as a “pioneer factor” that breaks ground for the activation of genes associated with stem cell identity in the hair follicle.
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