Plasticity of the Differentiated State

  • Helen M. Blau
Part of the Progress in Gene Expression book series (PRGE)


As the embryo develops, cells specialize for function in tissues. From the time the sperm fertilizes the egg, all cells of the body contain the same DNA, yet they only express a subset of their genetic material. Two types of signals that play a critical role in instructing a cell to assume a specific differentiated state are positional information and induction. Gradients of morphogenetic molecules provide positional cues from a distance, the morphogens diffusing from a source and establishing a continuous range of concentrations. The composite of signals received by cells in different locations differs, leading to variations in gene expression. Inductive signals are provided by immediate cell neighbors. The nature and mode of action of such distal and proximal signals in establishing the differentiated state has been extensively discussed (Gurdon, 1992; St. Johnston and Nusslein-Volhard, 1992; Wolpert, 1969, 1989). But the question of how, once established, the differentiated state is maintained has received less attention. By what molecular mechanism is the differentiated state of a cell regulated? That question is the focus of this chapter.


Somatic Cell Hybrid Continuous Regulation Bithorax Complex Neurosensory Cell Muscle Cell Nucleus 
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© Birkhäuser Boston 1993

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  • Helen M. Blau

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