BMP-primed stem cells: discovery of a new type of transitional cells

A study from the University of Missouri uncovers a previously unknown form of transitional cell that could help advance stem cell research.

Go to the profile of Elena Conroy
Apr 22, 2015

Researchers from the University of Missouri (MO,USA), in an effort to grow placenta cells to better study the causes of pre-eclampsia, discovered a previously unknown form of human embryonic stem cell. These new stem cells could help advance research on pre-eclampsia and a number of other areas of the human reproductive process. The findings were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pre-eclampsia is a disease that affects 5 – 8% percent of pregnancies in America. Complications from this disease can lead to emergency cesarean sections early in pregnancies to save the lives of the infants and mothers. Scientists believe pre-eclampsia is caused by a number of factors, including shallow placentas that are insufficiently associated with maternal blood vessels.

“These new cells, which we are calling bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) - primed stem cells, are much more robust and easily manipulated than standard embryonic stem cells,” explained R Michael Roberts who led the study at the University of Missouri. “BMP-primed cells represent a transitional stage of development between embryonic stem cells and their ultimate developmental fate, whether that is placenta cells, or skin cells or brain cells. We can use these new stem cells for future research to better understand how embryos are organized and what causes diseases like pre-eclampsia and other prenatal problems.”

For the study, Roberts and his team were attempting to grow placenta cells from embryonic stem cells by exposing them to Bone morphogenetic protein 4 for a shorter period of time than previously done before. They subsequently also added two other drugs that temporarily inhibited key biochemical pathways associated with the pluripotent state of the stem cells.

Instead of forming placenta cells, the stem cells grew into what was a previously unobserved state, the so-called “BMP primed” stem cells. These cells were found to be much easier to work with than traditional stem cells because they are easier to grow and are more homogenous.

“Previously, the common thought was that embryonic stem cells transitioned straight from stem cells to their end products,” commented Roberts. “These new stem cells made us realize that embryonic stem cells exist in a number of different transitional states, which likely resemble those encountered in the early stages of embryos. This should open the door for future stem cell research that is much more efficient. We now have new stem cells that are easier to manipulate since they are already at the key transitional precipice before changing into placenta cells, skin cells or any other kind of cell that makes up the human body.”


Research article: Yang Y, Adachi K, Sheridan M A et al. Heightened potency of human pluripotent stem cell lines created by transient BMP4 exposure. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504778112 (2015) [Epub ahead of print]

University of Missouri press release:

Go to the profile of Elena Conroy

Elena Conroy

Contributor, Future Science Group

If you have any interest in submitting to the journal Regenerative Medicine or have any queries, please don't hesitate to contact my colleague Adam, Commissioning Editor of the journal

No comments yet.