The predominant view of embryonic development and cell differentiation has been that rigid and even irreversible epigenetic marks are laid down along the path of cell specialization ensuring the proper silencing of unrelated lineage programmes. This model made the prediction that specialized cell types are stable and cannot be redirected into other lineages. Accordingly, early attempts to change the identity of somatic cells had little success and was limited to conversions between closely related cell types. Nuclear transplantation experiments demonstrated, however, that specialized cells even from adult mammals can be reprogrammed into a totipotent state. The discovery that a small combination of transcription factors can reprogramme cells to pluripotency without the need of oocytes further supported the view that these epigenetic barriers can be overcome much easier than assumed, but the extent of this flexibility was still unclear. When we showed that a differentiated mesodermal cell can be directly converted to a differentiated ectodermal cell without a pluripotent intermediate, it was suggested that in principle any cell type could be converted into any other cell type. Indeed, the work of several groups in recent years has provided many more examples of direct somatic lineage conversions. Today, the question is not anymore whether a specific cell type can be generated by direct reprogramming but how it can be induced.
Keywords: cell fate conversion; direct reprogramming; induced neuronal cells; induced pluripotent stem cells; pluripotent stem cell-derived induced neuronal cells.
© 2015 The Author(s).