Author(s): Adrian Bird
The character of a cell is defined by its constituent proteins, which are the result of specific patterns of gene expression. Crucial determinants of gene expression patterns are DNA-binding transcription factors that choose genes for transcriptional activation or repression by recognizing the sequence of DNA bases in their promoter regions. Interaction of these factors with their cognate sequences triggers a chain of events, often involving changes in the structure of chromatin, that leads to the assembly of an active transcription complex (e.g.,Cosma et al. 1999). But the types of transcription factors present in a cell are not alone sufficient to define its spectrum of gene activity, as the transcriptional potential of a genome can become restricted in a stable manner during development. The constraints imposed by developmental history probably account for the very low efficiency of cloning animals from the nuclei of differentiated cells (Rideout et al. 2001; Wakayama and Yanagimachi 2001). A “transcription factors only” model would predict that the gene expression pattern of a differentiated nucleus would be completely reversible upon exposure to a new spectrum of factors. Although many aspects of expression can be reprogrammed in this way (Gurdon 1999), some marks of differentiation are evidently so stable that immersion in an alien cytoplasm cannot erase the memory.