Changing potency by spontaneous fusion
Evans, Edward P
Smith, Austin G
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Recent reports have suggested that mammalian stem cells residing in one tissue may have the capacity to produce differentiated cell types for other tissues and organs (1–9). Here we define a mechanism by which progenitor cells of the central nervous system can give rise to non-neural derivatives. Cells taken from mouse brain were co-cultured with pluripotent embryonic stem cells. Following selection for a transgenic marker carried only by the brain cells, undifferentiated stem cells are recovered in which the brain cell genome has undergone epigenetic reprogramming. However, these cells also carry a transgenic marker and chromosomes derived from the embryonic stem cells. Therefore the altered phenotype does not arise by direct conversion of brain to embryonic stem cell but rather through spontaneous generation of hybrid cells. The tetraploid hybrids exhibit full pluripotent character, including multilineage contribution to chimaeras. We propose that transdetermination consequent to cell fusion (10) could underlie many observations otherwise attributed to an intrinsic plasticity of tissue stem cells (9).