La Jolla, CA Boosted by physical and mental exercise, neural stem cells continue to sprout new neurons throughout life, but the exact function of these newcomers has been the topic of much debate. Removing a genetic master switch that maintains neural stem cells in their proliferative state finally gave researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies some definitive answers.
Without adult neurogenesis literally the birth of neurons genetically engineered mice turned into slow learners that had trouble navigating a water maze and remembering the location of a submerged platform, the Salk investigators report in the Jan. 30 Advance Online Edition of Nature. The findings suggest that, one day, researchers might be able to stimulate neurogenesis with orally active drugs to influence memory function, the researchers say.
Our study directly establishes that neurogenesis plays an important role in a defined process, the acquisition and storage of spatial memory, says Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D., a professor in the Salk Institutes Gene Expression Laboratory, who, together with his Salk colleague Fred H. Gage, Ph.D., a professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, directed the study.
This finding puts us in a new and important position to exploit the potential of stem cell-based therapies to improve brain function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers that are accompanied by a loss of memory, Evans says.
In an earlier collaboration, Evans and Gage had discovered that TLX, a so-called orphan receptor is crucial for maintaining adult neural stem cell in an undifferentiated, proliferative state. Orphan receptors are structurally related to the well-known hormone receptors that mediate steroid and thyroid signaling. In contrast, a TLX regulatory molecule has not yet been identified.
Now, the Salk team wanted to learn more about TLXs biology and function. However, the global deletion
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