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New form of stem cell communication rescues diseased neurons
Date:2/1/2010

LA JOLLA, Calif., February 1, 2010 -- Investigators at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham, formerly Burnham Institute for Medical Research), the Karolinska Institutet, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School and Universit Libre de Bruxelles have demonstrated in mouse models that transplanted stems cells, when in direct contact with diseased neurons, send signals through specialized channels that rescue the neurons from death. These direct cell-to-cell connections may also play a role in normal development by laying down the blueprint for more mature electrical connections between neurons and other cells. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 1.

While it was already known that stem cells will seek out diseased cells in the brain, the international group of scientists showed, both in tissue culture and in mice, that the stem cells actively bring diseased neurons back from the brink via cross-talk through gap junctions, the connections between cells that allow molecular signals to pass back and forth. Significantly, the stem cells do not need to differentiate into the specific type of neuron to provide this therapeutic effect. The researchers also believe this protective mechanism may be active in other cell types and play a role in many diseases. For example, some of their preliminary work shows that these mechanisms may rescue damaged neural fibers in adult spinal cord injuries.

"We showed a while ago that stems cells may exert a therapeutic effect on damaged or diseased host systems by secreting therapeutic factors and 'bathing' the dying cells," said Evan Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology program at Sanford-Burnham. "However, we did not know that stem cells can also exert their action through direct cell-to-cell contact. Indeed, we believe that this may be a newly-recognized way in
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Contact: Josh Baxt
jbaxt@burnham.org
858-795-5236
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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