The cerebellum is the brain's control center for motor coordination and cognitive function, yet little has been known about the origins of the neurons and supporting "glial" cells that populate this region.
The Duke discovery of stem cells in the cerebellum suggests a possible origin for these normal cells and provides a starting point for understanding the basis of medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children, said the researchers.
Medulloblastomas arise in the cerebellum but their cells of origin have remained unclear. However, a number of these tumors have been shown to contain proteins that are normally found on neural stem cells. This finding perplexed scientists, as stem cells had never been shown to exist in the cerebellum.
The Duke study provides the first evidence that stem cells actually exist in the cerebellum and supports the theory that medulloblastomas could arise from these cells, said the researchers. They hope their discovery will eventually lead to more targeted, less toxic treatments that disrupt the process by which stem cells could give rise to brain tumors.
Their results are published in the June, 2005 issue of Nature Neuroscience. The study was funded by the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, the James S. McDonnell Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.
"Some medulloblastomas are believed to arise from a type of cell called a granule cell," said Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology and senior author on the study. "However, the majority of medulloblastomas have no clear cell of origin. Our discovery demonstrates for the first time th