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Gene Regul Syst Bio. 2008 Feb 10;2:43-51.

Oxygen and Cell Fate Decisions.

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Department of Therapeutic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520, U.S.A.


Molecular oxygen has been known to play a critical role in a wide range of biological processes including glycolysis, mitochondrial respiration, angiogenesis, pulmonary functions, and cardiovascular activities. An emerging theme has developed in recent years that oxygen has significant impact on embryonic development, maintenance of stem cells, and cellular differentiation or cell fate decisions. Among the notable observations, early embryonic development takes place in a hypoxic microenvironment. Hematopoietic stem cells appear to be located in hypoxic regions within the bone marrow. Majority of the current observations have shown that hypoxia seems to prevent cellular differentiation and to maintain pluripotency of stem/progenitor cells. Genetic studies have demonstrated a critical role of hypoxia-inducible factors 1alpha and 2alpha in embryonic development. These intriguing observations demonstrate an important role of molecular oxygen in such fundamental biological processes as stem cell maintenance and regulation of cell fate decisions. Herein, we describe some of the latest advances in the biology of molecular oxygen and provide our perspectives on the potential impact of these interesting findings.

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