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Image of the Week: Human embryonic stem cells' self-destruction switch

This striking image tells a fascinating story of stem cell self-sacrifice. The photo depicts a critical protein called Bax (shown in red) located in a region of the stem cell called the Golgi apparatus, which processes and modifies proteins. The nuclei are stained in blue.

In most cells, Bax remains in an inactive form and requires a certain chain of events to spur it into action if the cell becomes damaged enough to kill itself. But in the case of embryonic stem cells, Bax stands at attention in its active form. This posture allows the cells to rapidly self-destruct if changes to their DNA makes them a potential threat to a developing embryo, according to findings (subscription required) recently published in Molecular Cell.

This extreme sensitivity to DNA mutations lasts only a few days during early development, but it is an important adaptation for embryonic stems cells. Researchers hope the findings will inform how to grow new neurons or other cells to replace those that have been lost in patients with Parkinson’s and other diseases.

Photo by National Institutes of General Medical Sciences

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