microRNAs selectively protect hub cells of the germline stem cell niche from apoptosis

Genotoxic stress such as irradiation causes a temporary halt in tissue regeneration. The ability to regain regeneration depends on the type of cells that survived the assault. Previous studies showed that this propensity is usually held by the tissue-specific stem cells. However, stem cells cannot maintain their unique properties without the support of their surrounding niche cells. In this study, we show that exposure of Drosophila melanogaster to extremely high levels of irradiation temporarily arrests spermatogenesis and kills half of the stem cells. In marked contrast, the hub cells that constitute a major component of the niche remain completely intact. We further show that this atypical resistance to cell death relies on the expression of certain antiapoptotic microRNAs (miRNAs) that are selectively expressed in the hub and keep the cells inert to apoptotic stress signals. We propose that at the tissue level, protection of a specific group of niche cells from apoptosis underlies ongoing stem cell turnover and tissue regeneration.

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