A team of scientists including researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have identified and validated the first biomarker that permits neural stem and progenitor cells (NPCs) to be tracked, non-invasively, in the brains of living human subjects. This important advance could lead to significantly better diagnosis and monitoring of brain tumors and a range of serious neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The biomarker is a lipid molecule whose presence the scientists were able consistently to detect in a part of the brain called the hippocampus where new nerve cells are known to be generated. The marker was not detected in the cortex and other parts of the brain where this process, called neurogenesis, does not occur in healthy adults.
As elsewhere in the body, the rise of new cells in the brain is a process that can be traced to stem cells, which, through mechanisms still only partly grasped, give birth to daughter progenitor cells that undergo repeated division and maturation into adult cells. As recently as a few years ago, most scientists did not believe that new nerve cells were created anywhere in the adult brain.
The newly discovered marker can be detected when NPCs stem-like progenitor cells are actively dividing, a mark that new nerve cells are being created. Until now, there was no way to identify and track these cells in living people, to get a dynamic picture of neurogenesis, said Grigori Enikolopov, Ph.D.
A fuller understanding of neural stem and progenitor cells could one day unlock the secret to nervous-system regeneration following stroke or massive trauma. In the nearer-term, discovery of the neural stem-cell biomarker just reported is likely to yield more powerful diagnostics.
The technique the team has developed is based on MRI technology that is currently in widespread use to perform non-invasive scans of the living brain and can tell us where stem-like cells are dividing, sai
|Contact: Jim Bono|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory