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Researchers discover stem cell 'guide' that may be key for targeting neural stem cell treatments

UC Irvine School of Medicine researchers have discovered how new neurons born from endogenous neural stem cells are sent to regions of the brain where they can replace old and dying cells, a finding that suggests how stem cell therapies can be specifically targeted to brain regions affected by neurodegenerative diseases or by stroke.

Associate Professor Qun-Yong Zhou and graduate student Kwan L. Ng in the UCI Department of Pharmacology have identified a protein that guides these new neurons to a particular brain region. The protein, a small peptide called prokineticin 2 (PK2), was found to play a key regulatory role for the proper functional integration of these new neurons in the brain. A few years ago, PK2 was shown by the same research group to be an important regulator of circadian rhythms. The current study appears in the June 24 issue of the journal Science.

"One of the keys to developing promising new therapies for debilitating neurodegenerative diseases lies in our understanding of how new neurons are created and integrated into mature brain tissue," Zhou said. "This protein is an attractive drug target for either boosting neuron-forming processes or stem cell-based therapies for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, or for stroke and other brain injuries."

While all neurons are originally born and differentiated from their stem cell progenitors during development, the adult brain maintains at least some regions where neural stem cells create new neurons to replace old and dying ones. One area is the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles, which are fluid-filled cavities in both brain hemispheres connected the central canal of the spinal cord.

Zhou and his colleagues discovered how PK2 guides the migration of neurons born from neural stem cells from the subventricular zone in the brain's core through mature tissue to reach the olfactory bulb, the "smell" part of the brain located above the sinus cavity. PK2 allows t
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Source:University of California - Irvine


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