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Volume 548 Issue 7669, 31 August 2017

Most adult organs are in a constant state of renewal, with old cells continually being replaced by the progeny of stem cells. For organs to keep the same size, there must be strict equilibrium between cell production and cell loss, but how such control is exercised is unclear. In this issue, Lucy Erin O’Brien and her colleagues reveal that tissue-level equilibrium, and thus constant organ size, result from localized communication between cells during renewal. Investigating the intestine of the fruit fly Drosophila (pictured on the cover), O’Brien and her team uncovered a feedback mechanism in which the deaths of old enterocytes release a block on stem-cell division. In healthy enterocytes, the protein E-cadherin prevents the secretion of epidermal growth factors (EGFs) by suppressing the EGF-activating protease rhomboid. When an enterocyte undergoes its natural death, loss of E-cadherin triggers induction of rhomboid, which in turn activates EGF receptors on nearby stem cells, sparking replacement of the dying cell. By limiting cell replacement to the time and place of tissue need, this mechanism ensures tissue-level equilibrium. Cover image: Lucy Erin O’Brien and Jackson Liang

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