For more than a century, physicians have anecdotally noted that patients with an underactive thyroid--often caused by iodine deficiency--tended to also have anemia. But the link between thyroid hormone and red blood cell production has remained elusive--that is, until two postdoctoral researchers in the lab of Whitehead Institute Founding Member Dr. Harvey Lodish, Dr. Xiaofei Gao and Dr. Hsiang-Ying "Sherry" Lee, decided to investigate. The results were published online on September 1, 2017 in PNAS. The article is titled “"Thyroid Hormone Receptor Beta and NCOA4 Regulate Terminal Erythrocyte Differentiation." During the development of red blood cells, specialized bone marrow stem cells mature through several stages until they finally turn on the genes for hemoglobin and other red blood cell proteins and become mature red blood cells. In order to simulate this process in the lab, researchers have previously found that culturing blood cell progenitors in serum helps them turn on all of the proper proteins to take the final step and become a red blood cell. Drs. Gao and Lee, now Principal Investigators at China’s Westlake Institute for Advanced Study and Peking University, respectively, wondered if something in the serum was key to flipping the switch to becoming a mature red blood cell. To narrow down which of the molecules in the serum might be the trigger, Drs. Gao and Lee ran the serum through a standard laboratory filter that many of us use every day for our tap water: charcoal.
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