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Human Body Mostly Composed of Just Five Major Groups of Cell

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In a study published in Genome Research, a team led by Thomas Gingeras from Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (CHSL) and Roderic Guigó at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) detail that cells in the human body can be classified into five major groups. The researchers created this new classification by monitoring the transcriptome (variety of gene transcripts) of primary cells from multiple organs.

The five cell groups act as elemental building blocks, from which tissues and organs are “assembled”. Based on the expression of these genes, the authors estimated the cellular composition of tissues, and they found this composition to reflect phenotypic traits of tissues, and to change with age, sex, and disease states.

"Our work redefines, based on gene expression, the basic histological types in which tissues have been traditionally classified," says Guigó, last author of the study and Coordinator of Bioinformatics and Genomics Program at the CRG.

“Understanding how these five groups of cells compose human tissue is a good first step towards aiding in characterizing disease,” says Manuel Muñoz Aguirre, one of the co-authors and researcher at the CRG. “For example, if we study a healthy group of individuals, we have an idea of how cells in these groups behave. Then, when we study a group of individuals affected by disease, we can look at the differences in the levels of these cells. Thus, this is a starting point for understanding what things could go wrong during disease at the cellular level.”


Breschi et al. (2020). A limited set of transcriptional programs define major cell types. Genome Research. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/gr.263186.120

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