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Scientists Find Way to Track Stem Cells in Brain
Date:11/8/2007

explained.

Like other adult stem cells in the body, these cells are held in reserve, so they can develop into new or replacement cells -- in this case, brain cells.

Stem cells in the hippocampus are particularly useful, because humans keep collecting memories. "Memories always change," Sanberg pointed out, so the brain needs new cells with which to store and interpret them.

But research in this area has been stymied by the fact that scientists haven't had any means of tracking neural stem cells. A noninvasive technology called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) has long been used to track the brain's two dominant cell types -- neurons and glial cells -- because scientists discovered molecular markers that reliably identify them on MRS.

But a marker for brain stem cells has remained elusive -- until now.

Using cutting-edge scanning and computer technology, Maletic-Savatic's team has discovered a chemical signature -- as yet unnamed -- that distinctly characterizes neural stem cells. "We think that it's a complex lipid or lipoprotein," the Stony Brook researcher said. Further investigation is under way to define and describe the molecule's identity, she added.

In MRS imaging studies in mice and rats, as well as in healthy human volunteers, the researchers tracked the quantity and location of neural progenitor cells in the brain. They even transplanted some of these cells into an adult rat's brain and used MRS to verify the transplant's location.

And in another first, Maletic-Savatic's team compared the concentrations of neural progenitor cells in the brains of young children, adolescents and adult humans. They found that -- as had been suspected from animal studies -- the number of these cells in the brain decreases markedly with age.

"We were actually really surprised that there was such a dramatic decline," Maletic-Savatic said.

The researcher said she's already planni
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