Researchers at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) have discovered a system that provides cells with information about their position within developing organs. This system, studied in developing limbs, tells cells what anatomical structure they need to form within the organ. The article, published today in Science Advances, shows that malfunctioning of this system causes congenital malformations and could partly explain the effect of thalidomide, a drug contraindicated in pregnancy because it induces limb defects.
Embryonic development is one of the most fascinating processes in nature and has aroused scientific interest since the time of Aristotle. The generation of millions of cells from a single progenitor and their organization to produce the precise anatomy of each species is one of the most astounding examples of a self-organizing system. “Understanding how cells know which organs and anatomical structures they should generate in each location within the embryo is one of the most interesting challenges in this scientific field,” said study coordinator Dr. Miguel Torres.