"This is significant because this molecule is frequently used to secure cells onto culture dishes in stem cell labs all over the world," said Bjorn Scheffler, M.D., a neuroscientist with UF's College of Medicine. "Everyone believes this molecule is purely growth supportive, but now we've shown it changes the fate of cells it is working with. When you grow the cells in a culture dish you are actually educating them to become something very special."
In that respect, the discovery sheds light on how embryonic stem cells diversify to form various neural structures, one of the fundamental mysteries of brain development, the researchers say.
Since the 1980s, Steindler has studied the effect of certain molecules in the extracellular matrix, a mixture that surrounds developing brain cells. Transiently appearing and disappearing, these molecules apparently cordon the brain into different regions.
If molecules from the matrix activate genes in stem cells responsible for generating neural components, potentially any of the molecules can be tested to find its specific role during development of the brain, according to UF neuroscientist Katrin Goetz, M.D., first author of the paper.
In addition, the discovery reinforces a notion that rodent embryonic stem cell biology can be used to understand basic brain mechanisms, potentially leading to treatments where adult stem cells are taken from patients, cultured and transplanted into damaged brain environments to restore functions lost to disease or injury.
"We largely keep the brain cells we are born with for life, but we also have stem cells in our brain that can divide and make new neurons for maintenance," said Gordon Fishell, Ph.D., a professor of cell biology with the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University Medical Center who was not involved
Source:Missouri Botanical Garden