Germline stem cells (GSCs) were the first stem cells demonstrated to be regulated by the microenvironment or niche in the Drosophila ovary a decade ago. In the Drosophila ovary, as a stem cell divides, one daughter remaining in the niche continues to self-renew, and the other daughter positioned outside the niche undergoes differentiation. The niche produces bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) that only act within one cell diameter to ensure that at every division only one of two GSC daughters self-renews and thus maintains a stable GSC pool. Within the past decade, great progress has been made toward understanding how functions of BMP niche signals are restricted to GSCs. In this review, we have discussed multiple levels of control underlying the restriction of BMP signals within the niche. Because the niche mechanism has been shown to regulate stem cells in various organisms including mammals, the knowledge gained from the Drosophila GSC niche should help gain a better understanding of how niche signals are controlled in other stem cell systems.
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