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A dynamic mode of stem-cell regulation has been discovered. Intestinal stem cells use migration to maintain a large pool of multifunctional cells, perhaps endowing the organ with robust responses to injury.
Stephanie J. Ellis is at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Robin Neustein Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development, Rockefeller University, New York, New York 10065, USA, and at Max Perutz Labs Vienna, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
Stem cells come in many guises, from the multifunctional cells of early embryos to the more restricted variety found in adult tissues. Their role is to provide a source of specialized cell types, while also maintaining a stock of stem cells. Adult stem cells are located in specific tissue regions called niches that support the cells’ long-term survival and capacity for tissue regeneration. Although, by definition, any given stem cell in a population should be equally able to execute stem-cell functions, this is not completely true1. In fact, the physical position of a stem cell within its niche is key to its functional abilities2,3. Writing in Nature, Azkanaz et al.4 examine the positioning and movement of one type of adult stem cell, developing a strategy that allows repeated imaging of the intestinal lining of living mice.