Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

USC Researchers Track Down The Stem Cells That Create Feathers

Date:
December 15, 2005
Source:
University Of Southern California
Summary:
The stem cells that produce bird feathers have been visualized and analyzed for the first time, signifying the initial step in a scientific journey that may ultimately shed light on human organ regeneration. The research, published in the December 15 issue of the journal Nature, was performed by a group of prominent stem-cell researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

Cheng-Ming Chuong, professor of pathology in the Keck School of Medicine of USC and principal investigator on the study.
Credit: Image courtesy of University Of Southern California

The stem cells that produce bird feathers have been visualized and analyzed for the first time, signifying the initial step in a scientific journey that may ultimately shed light on human organ regeneration.

The research, published in the December 15 issue of the journal Nature, was performed by a group of prominent stem-cell researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

“What we found is that feather stem cells are distributed in a ring configuration around the inner wall of the vase-shaped feather follicle. This is different from hair stem cells, which are located in a bulge outside the follicle,” explains Cheng-Ming Chuong, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology at the Keck School and principal investigator on this study.

Feather stem cells are of interest to scientists because of their profound regenerative abilities. A bird in nature molts twice a year. With more than 20,000 feathers on the average bird, Chuong notes, that means there are a lot of active, ongoing regenerative events in an adult bird.

Chuong and his USC colleagues identified epithelial stem cells within a chicken-feather follicle by giving the chickens water containing a non-radioactive label that was then incorporated and retained only in the putative epithelial stem cells. They showed that these cells were pluripotent—retaining the ability to differentiate into many different cell types—by taking the purported stem cells from quail-feather follicles and transplanting them into a chicken host. (Quail cells can be differentiated from chicken cells by cellular markers.) This demonstrated that only the labeled cells were pluripotent.

These stem cells, the researchers found, are well protected in the follicular base of each individual feather follicle. As they proliferate and differentiate, their progeny is displaced upward to create a feather. When the bird molts, the quill of the feather is dislodged from the follicle with a tapered proximal opening—the very feature that has historically made feathers so useful as writing implements—leaving behind a ring of stem cells for the creation of the next generation of feathers.

“The unique topological arrangement of stem cells, proliferating cells, and differentiating cells within the feather follicle allows for continuous growth, shedding, and regeneration of the entire organ,” Chuong says.

Feathers are also of great interest to scientists due to their diverse shapes, each with its unique functional morphology. For example, the radially symmetric downy feathers found on chicks and on the trunks of adults are designed for warmth, while the bilaterally symmetric feathers found on the adult wing are designed for taking flight.

What Chuong and his colleagues found, to their surprise, was that the orientation of the ring of feather stem cells is related to the type of feather being generated: the stem cell ring is horizontally placed in radially symmetric downy feathers, but is tilted in bilaterally symmetric feathers, with the lower end of the ring on the anterior side of the follicle, where the rachis—the backbone of the feather—arises. In the Nature paper, Chuong postulates that it is this simple tilting that can transform feathers from radially symmetric to bilaterally symmetric morphologies by producing molecular gradients and/or asymmetric cell behaviors.

While this insight into the formation and regeneration of feathers is fascinating, it is the potential for application to human stem-cell studies that really motivates Chuong and his team.

“What we are really learning about is how stem cells are assembled into organs in nature. In this way, we can take advantage of the distinct patterns of the feather as a model to understand the fundamental principles of organ formation and regeneration,” Chuong notes. “Nature is the best teacher for tissue engineering. What we decipher from our animal models can then be applied to help human stem cells and adult human organs to regenerate—and regenerate properly.”

Funding for the project came from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

###

Zhicao Yue, Ting-Xin Jiang, Randall Bruce Widelitz, Cheng-Ming Chuong, “Mapping stem cell activities in the feather follicle,” Nature, pgs. 1026-1029, 15 Dec. 2005


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Southern California. "USC Researchers Track Down The Stem Cells That Create Feathers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 December 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051215082900.htm>.
University Of Southern California. (2005, December 15). USC Researchers Track Down The Stem Cells That Create Feathers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051215082900.htm
University Of Southern California. "USC Researchers Track Down The Stem Cells That Create Feathers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051215082900.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Chimp Violence Study Renews Debate On Why They Kill

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) The study weighs in on a debate over whether chimps are naturally violent or become that way due to human interference in the environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins