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[Mechanisms of asymmetric cell division: from model organisms to tumorigenesis]

Chartier NT, Hyenne V, Labbé JC

Unité de recherche en division et différenciation cellulaire, Institut de recherche en immunologie et en cancérologie, Université de Montréal, CP 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal (Québec), Canada H3C 3J7. nicolas.chartier@umontreal.ca

Asymmetric cell division is the process by which a single cell gives rise to two different daughter cells. This process is important to generate cell diversity during the development of multicellular organisms, as well as for stem cell self-renewal in adults. Current knowledge on so-called cancer stem cells suggests that a loss of asymmetry during their division could lead to overproliferation and favour tumorigenesis, highlighting the importance of deciphering the mechanisms governing asymmetric cell division. Two mechanisms can lead to an asymmetric cell division: asymmetry can either be governed by proximity to a given cellular environment (or niche), in which case the mechanism is referred to as extrinsic, or the mother cell polarizes itself without external intervention, in which case the mechanism is referred to as intrinsic. In the last 20 years, our understanding of intrinsic mechanisms leading to asymmetric cell division has progressed, largely after studies carried out in model organisms such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. These models allowed the identification of molecular complexes used by nearly all the cells that divide asymmetrically, including human cells. Here we review the main intrinsic mechanisms of asymmetric cell division as described in model organisms and discuss their relevance towards mammalian tumorigenesis.

Med Sci (Paris) 2010;26(3):251-7.

Pubmed ID: 20346274

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