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Department Cell and Developmental Biology
Director: Professor Dr. Hans R. Schöler

Research Interests:

The Molecular Biology of Stem Cell Pluripotency and Germline Development

Key words:

Embryonic Stem Cells, Embryonic Germ Cells, Reprogramming, Differentiation, Neurosphere Cells, Fusion, Oct, POU


Our research interests can be divided into two broad areas:

  1. The genetic program defining pluripotency in embryonic stem cells
  2. Gene function and regulation in the mammalian germline

Stem cells are crucial ingredients in the progressive restriction of cellular developmental capacity during mammalian embryogenesis. So far, only embryonic stem cells (ESC) had been shown to exhibit the potential to differentiate into cells of all three germ layers and into germ cells.

The POU transcription factor Oct4, expressed in ESCs and diploid germ cells, is strongly implicated in the process of maintaining as well as regaining stem-cell pluripotency and functions as a key regulator of mammalian germline development. Our scientific hypothesis is that ESCs, adult cells and diploid germ cells can be interconverted and that expression of Oct4 is essential for some of the underlying processes.

One major focus of research in my laboratory during the next years will be to generate autologous somatic cells of mouse and human by in vitro procedures and to understand the underlying processes. The department will attempt to elucidate, at the molecular level, how a somatic cell nucleus and how a somatic cell have to be reprogrammed to enable pluripotency.

Part of our previous and current research is to define the function and regulation of Oct4 as a means to elucidate the regulatory network in embryonic stem and germ cells. In our studies, we will take advantage of the knowledge and tools developed. Previous research findings relevant to our future research focus are:

The germ cell cycle in the mouse.

The germ cell cycle in the mouse: The germ cell lineage occurs at the mid-gastrula stage (7.2 dpc) when a group of extraembryonic mesoderm cells acquire features of primordial germ cells (PGCs). PGCs stay in extraembryonic localization until 8.5 dpc when they are passively enclosed in the hindgut wall. Thereafter PGCs actively migrate to the gonadal anlagen. During this period they also proliferate until 13.5 dpc. At the puberty in both sexes, maturation of oocytes and sperms leads to the production of mature haploid gametes. Fertilization gives rise to the next generation through the production of a totipotent zygote. The areas highlighted in orange represent the toti- and pluripotential cells of the early embryo, red represent germ cells (taken from Pesce and Schöler, 1998).

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