Cell Division and Differentiation

Establishment and maintenance of cell polarity is a fundamental process for the generation of cell diversity during the development of metazoans. Stem cells, for instance, require an axis of polarity to divide asymmetrically and generate two daughter cells with distinct fates: one daughter committed to differentiation, and another that retains the totipotent characteristics of the mother. Likewise, the loss of epithelial polarity in human somatic cells is a primary diagnostic mark of malignant carcinomas in various tissues, including colon and breast. Although establishment and maintenance of cell polarity is crucial to generate asymmetry in all organisms, the precise molecular mechanisms underlying establishment, maintenance and transduction of cell polarity remain poorly understood, due to the lack of information about the regulators and effectors of polarity proteins.

Our research team uses the Caenorhabditis elegans 1-cell embryo as a model to understand how establishment of polarity can lead to asymmetric cell division and specification of cell fates. We also aim to understand how these processes are coordinated during stem cell division. C. elegans is an ideal model to study these problems because of the numerous molecular and genetic tools available. Since loss of cell polarity can lead to metastasis in certain conditions, this work will allow a better understanding of the molecular pathways that prevent metastasis. Likewise, because polarity establishment and maintenance is crucial for stem cell division, this will provide new information on the mechanisms of cell renewal and regeneration.

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