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Development. 2011 Dec;138(23):5087-97. doi: 10.1242/dev.067850. Epub 2011 Oct 26.

Self-maintained escort cells form a germline stem cell differentiation niche.

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Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 1000 East 50th Street, Kansas City, MO 64110, USA.


Stem cell self-renewal is controlled by concerted actions of niche signals and intrinsic factors in a variety of systems. In the Drosophila ovary, germline stem cells (GSCs) in the niche continuously self-renew and generate differentiated germ cells that interact physically with escort cells (ECs). It has been proposed that escort stem cells (ESCs), which directly contact GSCs, generate differentiated ECs to maintain the EC population. However, it remains unclear whether the differentiation status of germ cells affects EC behavior and how the interaction between ECs and germ cells is regulated. In this study, we have found that ECs can undergo slow cell turnover regardless of their positions, and the lost cells are replenished by their neighboring ECs via self-duplication rather than via stem cells. ECs extend elaborate cellular processes that exhibit extensive interactions with differentiated germ cells. Interestingly, long cellular processes of ECs are absent when GSC progeny fail to differentiate, suggesting that differentiated germ cells are required for the formation or maintenance of EC cellular processes. Disruption of Rho functions leads to the disruption of long EC cellular processes and the accumulation of ill-differentiated single germ cells by increasing BMP signaling activity outside the GSC niche, and also causes gradual EC loss. Therefore, our findings indicate that ECs interact extensively with differentiated germ cells through their elaborate cellular processes and control proper germ cell differentiation. Here, we propose that ECs form a niche that controls GSC lineage differentiation and is maintained by a non-stem cell mechanism.

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