Journal: Journal of Experimental Medicine
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An alarm clock for airway stem cells
© Douglas Sacha/Getty
Dormant stem cells in the respiratory tract rely on a protein receptor called Axl to awaken and start proliferating in response to cellular damage — the first step in airway repair.
This finding, from a team co-led by scientists from Tohoku University’s United Centers for Advanced Research and Translational Medicine, could lead to new therapies for chronic inflammatory pulmonary diseases.
The researchers showed that, in the presence of an inflammatory insult and with lung cells dying all around, airway basal stem cells need Axl on their surfaces to multiply. After expanding, the cells turn off Axl expression and start differentiating into the specialized cell types needed to replace damaged tissue.
Several cancer therapies already target Axl, which also plays a role in tumour development. Given that successful track record of drug development in oncology, the researchers propose that Axl signaling provides an attractive drug target for combatting lung disease.
- Journal of Experimental Medicine 216, 2184–2201 (2019). doi: 10.1084/jem.20171978