LA JOLLA, CA In recent years, stem cell researchers have become very adept at manipulating the fate of adult stem cells cultured in the lab. Now, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies achieved the same feat with adult neural stem cells still in place in the brain. They successfully coaxed mouse brain stem cells bound to join the neuronal network to differentiate into support cells instead.
The discovery, which is published ahead of print on Nature Neuroscience's website, not only attests to the versatility of neural stem cells but also opens up new directions for the treatment of neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke and epilepsy that not only affect neuronal cells but also disrupt the functioning of glial support cells.
"We have known that the birth and death of adult stem cells in the brain could be influenced be experience, but we were surprised that a single gene could change the fate of stem cells in the brain," says the study's lead author, Fred H. Gage, Ph.D., a professor in the Laboratory for Genetics and the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases.
Throughout life, adult neural stem cells generate new brain cells in two small areas of mammalian brains: the olfactory bulb, which processes odors, and the dentate gyrus, the central part of the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of memories and learning.
After these stem cells divide, their progenitors have to choose between several options remaining a stem cell, turning into a nerve cell, also called a neuron, or becoming part of the brain's support network, which includes astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.
Astrocytes are star-shaped glia cells that hold neurons in place, nourish them, and digest parts of dead neurons. Oligodendrocytes are specialized cells that wrap tightly around axons, the long, hair-like extensions of nerve cell that carry messages fro
|Contact: Gina Kirchweger|