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Brain stem cells can be awakened, say Schepens scientists
Date:6/6/2008

Boston, MAScientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have identified specific molecules in the brain that are responsible for awakening and putting to sleep brain stem cells, which, when activated, can transform into neurons (nerve cells) and repair damaged brain tissue. Their findings are published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

An earlier paper (published in the May issue of Stem Cells) by the same scientists laid the foundation for the PNAS study findings by demonstrating that neural stem cells exist in every part of the brain, but are mostly kept silent by chemical signals from support cells known as astrocytes.

"The findings from both papers should have a far-reaching impact," says principal investigator, Dr. Dong Feng Chen, who is an associate scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Chen believes that tapping the brain's dormant, but intrinsic, ability to regenerate itself is the best hope for people suffering from brain-ravaging diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease or traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries.

Until these studies, which were conducted in the adult brains of mice, scientists assumed that only two parts of the brain contained neural stem cells and could turn them on to regenerate brain tissue-- the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampus and the subventricular zone (SVZ). The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory, while the SVZ is a brain structure situated throughout the walls of lateral ventricles (part of the ventricular system in the brain) and are responsible for generating neurons reponible for smell. So scientists believed that when neurons died in other areas of the brain, they were lost forever along with their functions.

In the first study, Chen's team learned that stem cells existed everywhere in the brain by testing tissue from differen
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Contact: Patti Jacobs
pjacobs12@comcast.net
617-864-2712
Schepens Eye Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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