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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2010 Aug;20(4):362-8. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2010.04.010. Epub 2010 May 27.

Lineage programming: navigating through transient regulatory states via binary decisions.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Lineage-based mechanisms are widely used to generate cell type diversity in both vertebrates and invertebrates. For the past few decades, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has served as a primary model system to study this process because of its fixed and well-characterized cell lineage. Recent studies conducted at the level of single cells and individual cis-regulatory elements suggest a general model by which cellular diversity is generated in this organism. During its developmental history a cell passes through multiple transient regulatory states characterized by the expression of specific sets of transcription factors. The transition from one state to another is driven by a general binary decision mechanism acting at each successive division in a reiterative manner and ending up with the activation of the terminal differentiation program upon terminal division. A similar cell fate specification system seems to play a role in generating cellular diversity in the nervous system of more complex organisms such as Drosophila and vertebrates.

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