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USC researchers identify key mechanism that regulates the development of stem cells into neurons
Date:11/10/2008

Los Angeles, Calif. Nov. 10, 2008Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have identified a novel mechanism in the regulation and differentiation of neural stem cells.

Researchers found that the protein receptor Ryk has a key role in the differentiation of neural stem cells, and demonstrated a signaling mechanism that regulates neuronal differentiation as stem cells begin to grow into neurons. The study will be published in the Nov. 11 issue of the journal Developmental Cell, and is now available online.

The findings could have important implications for regenerative medicine and cancer therapies, says Wange Lu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the principal investigator on the study.

"Neural stem cells can potentially be used for cell-replacement therapy for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease, as well as spinal cord injury," Lu says. "Knowledge gained from this study will potentially help to generate neurons for such therapy. This knowledge can also be used to inhibit the growth of brain cancer stem cells."

During brain development, neural stem cells respond to the surrounding environment by either proliferation or differentiation, but the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of neural stem cells and neurons are unclear, Lu notes.

Ryk functions as a receptor of Wnt proteins required for cell-fate determination, axon guidance and neurite outgrowth in organisms. Researchers at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC analyzed sections of the forebrain in animal model embryos to investigate Ryk's function in vivo.

They found that during neurogenesis, when neural stem cells start to grow into neurons, Ryk protein is cleaved and translocates to the cell nucleus to regulate neuronal differentiation.

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Contact: Meghan Lewit
lewit@usc.edu
323-442-3941
University of Southern California
Source:Eurekalert

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