Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


MEMD — Result In Brief

Project ID: 273884
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

microRNAs in early embryonic development

The mammalian embryo is composed of cells that can develop into any cell type in the body. Studying the regulation of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) during development can help elucidate the biology of human diseases.
microRNAs in early embryonic development
Every cell type contains the same set of genes for making all the different proteins found in an organism. The process of gene products selection and usage is tightly controlled with cell development and fate being dependent on the combination of proteins synthesised. For instance, microRNAs are small molecules that block the formation of those proteins that are not required.

The EU-funded ‘microRNA regulation of apoptosis and differentiation during early mammalian development’ (MEMD) project studied the role microRNAs play in the development of the mammalian embryo. Specifically, scientists investigated how microRNAs affect ESCs in the mouse embryo, six days after fertilisation.

Researchers found that the six-day mouse embryo has a set of microRNAs similar to the one found in human stem cells. It also contains microRNAs that are present in cancer cells and associated with the formation or progression of tumours.

A number of proteins whose production is blocked by microRNAs during early embryo development were also identified. The so-called Bim protein promotes cell death and is normally produced by unhealthy cells that need to be eliminated. Bim production needs to be blocked in healthy cells and certain microRNAs in the ESCs of the six-day old embryo are responsible for this function. Surprisingly, high levels of Bim do not kill the ESCs of the three-day old embryo. Further studies confirmed that ESCs become sensitive to cell death inducing agents later on in development. They require microRNAs to stop the formation of proteins that would otherwise kill them. An interesting and potentially useful finding is the similarity (some features) between ESCs in the embryo and cancerous cells.

Overall, the findings of this project represent an important advance to the knowledge of the processes that controls early mammalian development and ESC survival. This will help in understanding diseases like cancer and finding innovative microRNA-based therapies.

Related information


Embryonic stem cells, microRNAs, mouse embryo, cancer, Bim, cell death
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