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Brain's stem cells 'eavesdrop' to find out when to act
Date:8/6/2012

Working with mice, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have figured out how stem cells found in a part of the brain responsible for learning, memory and mood regulation decide to remain dormant or create new brain cells. Apparently, the stem cells "listen in" on the chemical communication among nearby neurons to get an idea about what is stressing the system and when they need to act.

The researchers say understanding this process of chemical signaling may shed light on how the brain reacts to its environment and how current antidepressants work, because in animals these drugs have been shown to increase the number of brain cells. The findings are reported July 29 in the advance online publication of Nature.

"What we learned is that brain stem cells don't communicate in the official way that neurons do, through synapses or by directly signaling each other," says Hongjun Song, Ph.D., professor of neurology and director of Johns Hopkins Medicine's Institute for Cell Engineering's Stem Cell Program. "Synapses, like cell phones, allow nerve cells to talk with each other. Stem cells don't have synapses, but our experiments show they indirectly hear the neurons talking to each other; it's like listening to someone near you talking on a phone."

The "indirect talk" that the stem cells detect is comprised of chemical messaging fueled by the output of neurotransmitters that leak from neuronal synapses, the structures at the ends of brain cells that facilitate communication. These neurotransmitters, released from one neuron and detected by a another one, trigger receiving neurons to change their electrical charges, which either causes the neuron to fire off an electrical pulse propagating communication or to settle down, squelching further messages.

To find out which neurotransmitter brain stem cells can detect, the researchers took mouse brain tissue, attached electrodes to the stem cells and measured any change in electrical
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Contact: Vanessa McMains
vmcmain1@jhmi.edu
410-502-9410
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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