On your last nerve: Researchers advance understanding of stem cells

Nov 17, 2009
This is a high-resolution image of the surface of the adult stem cell niche in a mouse brain with a genetic label that makes FoxJ1+ cells green. Subsets of red and blue cells constitute adult stem cells and are largely distinct from FoxJ1+ cells. Credit: North Carolina State University

Researchers from North Carolina State University have identified a gene that tells embryonic stem cells in the brain when to stop producing nerve cells called neurons. The research is a significant advance in understanding the development of the nervous system, which is essential to addressing conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders.

The bulk of neuron production in the takes place before birth, and comes to a halt by birth. But scientists have identified specific regions in the core of the brain that retain stem cells into adulthood and continue to produce new neurons.

NC State researchers, investigating the subventricular zone, one of the regions that retains stem cells, have identified a gene that acts as a switch - transforming some into adult cells that can no longer produce new neurons. The research was done using mice. These cells form a layer of cells that support adult stem cells. The gene, called FoxJ1, increases its activity near the time of birth, when neural development slows down. However, the FoxJ1 gene is not activated in most of the stem cells in the subventricular zone - where new neurons continue to be produced into adulthood.

"Research into why and how some stem cells in the subventricular zone continue to produce new neurons is important because a biological understanding of how these cells function can contribute to new treatments to replace damaged or diseased , hopefully in regions that cannot do this by themselves," says Dr. Troy Ghashghaei, an assistant professor of neurobiology at NC State and the senior author of the research. "This research helps us understand brain development itself, which is key to identifying novel approaches for treatment of many neurological disorders."

These are genetically labeled FoxJ1+ cells (green) in a culture dish. These cells differentiate into a unique subset of cells that is distinguishable from known cell types in the adult stem cell niche in the mouse brain (the blue and red cells). Credit: North Carolina State University

When the FoxJ1 gene is activated, it produces a protein that functions as a transcription factor. swim through the nucleus of a cell turning other genes on and off, turning the embryonic stem cell into an adult cell. Some of the adult cells will function as stem cells, creating new neurons, but most will not - instead serving to support the by forming a stem cell "niche." This niche has a complex cellular architecture that allows adult to remain active in the subventricular zone.

Ghashghaei's lab is now moving forward with new research to determine what activates the FoxJ1 gene and how the FoxJ1 protein regulates the expression of other genes. This understanding will reveal how the activation and inactivation of genes controlled by FoxJ1 orchestrates the development of the adult stem cell niche. Ghashghaei's laboratory is a recent recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health to support this line of research.

Source: North Carolina State University (news : web)

Explore further: Surprise: Lost stem cells naturally replaced by non-stem cells, fly research suggests

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

When is a stem cell not really a stem cell?

Aug 26, 2007

Working with embryonic mouse brains, a team of Johns Hopkins scientists seems to have discovered an almost-too-easy way to distinguish between “true” neural stem cells and similar, but less potent versions. Their finding, ...

Stem cells are good for the brain

Jul 15, 2008

For some years, scientists have been speculating over why stem cells exist in the brain, as brain regeneration is limited. A German team of neuroscientists believe these stem cells help keep the brain healthy and active.

Recommended for you

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

2 hours ago

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

Rapid and accurate mRNA detection in plant tissues

4 hours ago

Gene expression is the process whereby the genetic information of DNA is used to manufacture functional products, such as proteins, which have numerous different functions in living organisms. Messenger RNA (mRNA) serves ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

22 hours ago

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Adventurous bacteria

Apr 16, 2014

To reproduce or to conquer the world? Surprisingly, bacteria also face this problem. Theoretical biophysicists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now shown how these organisms should ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Is Parkinson's an autoimmune disease?

The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson's disease is still unknown, but a new study proposes that neurons may be mistaken for foreign invaders and killed by the person's own immune system, similar to the ...