Polycomb proteins in mammalian cell differentiation and plasticity

Carolina Prezioso, Valerio Orlando*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


During development cell differentiation is accompanied by progressive restriction of the developmental potential and increased structural and functional specialization of cells. In this context, mechanisms of cell memory guarantee that cells maintain different identities previously determined by the integrated action of signalling and specific sets of transcription factors. Unraveling the molecular basis by which cells build and maintain their memory represents one of the most fascinating problems in biology. PcG proteins were originally identified as part of an epigenetic cellular memory system that controls gene silencing via chromatin structure. However, recent reports suggest that they are also involved in controlling dynamics and plasticity of gene regulation, particularly during differentiation, by interacting with other components of the transcriptional apparatus. In this review, we discuss the role of PcG proteins in pluripotent ES cells and in well known mammalian cell differentiation systems including skeletal muscle, epidermal, neuronal differentiation. The emerging picture suggests that indeed, plasticity and not rigidity is a fundamental aspect of PcG physiology and cell memory function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2067-2077
Number of pages11
JournalFEBS Letters
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 7 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Chiara Lanzuolo, Beatrice Bodega and all members of the lab for critically reading of the manuscript. This work was supported by Telethon Foundation and Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).


  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell memory
  • Chromatin
  • Epigenetics
  • PcG proteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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