Lefty at the Crossroads of “Stemness” and Differentiative Events



Stem cells are functionally defined by their ability to self-renew and generate a progeny capable of creation or reconstitution of various tissues. Microarray analysis has shown a member of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-β superfamily, Lefty, to be the single most abundant inhibitor in stem cells and in maternal decidua that supports embryo implantation. Lefty is regulated by pathways such as Smad (Sma and Mad [mothers against decapentaplegic]) and WNT (wingless-type) and by the transcriptional factor Oct3/4 (octamer-binding transcription factor 3/4), which support “stemness.” Lefty is also induced upon exit from the state of stemness, including forced in vitro differentiation, and leukemia inhibitory factor withdrawal. Lefty is a candidate in cell-fate decisions because of its unique ability to modulate the expression of TGF-β family proteins such as Nodal and by blanket inhibition of the activity of members of this family which require EGF-CFC (epidermal growth factor-Cripto, Frl-1, and Cryptic) as a coreceptor.