Researchers from North Carolina State University have identified a gene that tells embryonic stem cells in the brain when to stop producing nerve cells called neurons. The research is a significant advance in understanding the development of the nervous system, which is essential to addressing conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders.
The bulk of neuron production in the central nervous system takes place before birth, and comes to a halt by birth. But scientists have identified specific regions in the core of the brain that retain stem cells into adulthood and continue to produce new neurons.
NC State researchers, investigating the subventricular zone, one of the regions that retains stem cells, have identified a gene that acts as a switch transforming some embryonic stem cells into adult cells that can no longer produce new neurons. The research was done using mice. These cells form a layer of cells that support adult stem cells. The gene, called FoxJ1, increases its activity near the time of birth, when neural development slows down. However, the FoxJ1 gene is not activated in most of the stem cells in the subventricular zone where new neurons continue to be produced into adulthood.
"Research into why and how some stem cells in the subventricular zone continue to produce new neurons is important because a biological understanding of how these cells function can contribute to new treatments to replace damaged or diseased brain tissue, hopefully in regions that cannot do this by themselves," says Dr. Troy Ghashghaei, an assistant professor of neurobiology at NC State and the senior author of the research. "This research helps us understand brain development itself, which is key to identifying novel approaches for treatment of many neurological disorders."
When the FoxJ1 gene is activated, it produces a protein that functions as a transcription factor. Transcription factor
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University