During regeneration of a defective organ the human body has to commit specific cell types to rebuild the damaged parts. Stem cells are instructed to produce specialized cells, which carry out the healing task. Stem cells and other cell types have specific identities encoded in their differential gene expression patterns. This allows them to fulfill their specialized tasks for example as blood, liver or muscle cells. When cells divide they must retain their identities, a process called "cellular memory". Yet, during regenerative growth cellular fates have to be reprogrammed and thereby also their original memory changed.
We want to understand at the molecular level how reprogramming of cellular memory occurs. A complex interplay of specific chromatin proteins from the so-called Polycomb group and the Trithorax group ensure that gene expression patterns are stably and faithfully inherited during DNA replication and mitosis. This type of transmission of cellular information by chromatin proteins is called epigenetic, as it is independent of the sequence information of the DNA. We apply a systematic approach to study the epigenetic network of chromatin control on a genome-wide scale, during normal development as well as in the context of regenerating tissue. In addition, we want to understand how nature reprograms cells employing specific signal transduction mechanisms. In the future, we would like to be able to distinctively alter the fate of stem cells through external signals, to achieve the specific needs required for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
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