Developing cells acquire mature fates in part by selective (i.e. qualitatively different) expression of a few cell-specific genes. However, all cells share the same basic repertoire of molecular and subcellular building blocks. Therefore, cells must also specialize according to quantitative differences in cell-specific distributions of those common molecular resources. Here we propose the novel hypothesis that evolutionarily-conserved transcription factors called scaling factors (SFs) regulate quantitative differences among mature cell types. SFs: (1) are induced during late stages of cell maturation; (2) are dedicated to specific subcellular domains; and, thus, (3) allow cells to emphasize specific subcellular features. We identify candidate SFs and discuss one in detail: MIST1 (BHLHA15, vertebrates)/DIMM (CG8667, Drosophila); professional secretory cells use this SF to scale up regulated secretion. Because cells use SFs to develop their mature properties and also to adapt them to ever-changing environmental conditions, SF aberrations likely contribute to diseases of adult onset.
- Subcellular domains
- Transcription factor