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Shvartsman team identifies new mechanism regulating embryonic development

A research team led by Stanislav Y. Shvartsman, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and in the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, has discovered that competition for the important enzyme mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) by different proteins provides a mechanism to integrate different signals that direct early embryonic development.

During early embryonic development, a single undifferentiated cell becomes a complex organism containing different cell types arranged in precise patterns. These patterns, which ensure that the body structures from head-to-tail and front-to-back develop correctly, are created when cells respond to chemical signals from different signaling pathways. Defects in these pathways can lead to severe developmental disorders and cancer.

The team’s work, spearheaded by Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student Yoosik Kim and reported in the March 9 issue of Current Biology, suggests that these signals are combined long before they interact with the organism’s DNA, as was previously believed. Beyond advancing the fundamental understanding of mechanisms that control embryonic patterning, the work has implications for how to target cancer cells, which often exhibit hyperactive MAPK signaling.

For more information, see the news story posted on the Princeton University homepage, or the research report, “MAPK Substrate Competition Integrates Patterning Signals in the Drosophila Embryo”.