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: Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

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

Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

Dec 26, 2014

Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

Research sheds light on what causes cells to divide

Dec 24, 2014

When a rapidly-growing cell divides into two smaller cells, what triggers the split? Is it the size the growing cell eventually reaches? Or is the real trigger the time period over which the cell keeps growing ...

Locking mechanism found for 'scissors' that cut DNA

Dec 24, 2014

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered what keeps an enzyme from becoming overzealous in its clipping of DNA. Since controlled clipping is required for the production of specialized immune system proteins, ...

Scrapie could breach the species barrier

Dec 24, 2014

INRA scientists have shown for the first time that the pathogens responsible for scrapie in small ruminants (prions) have the potential to convert the human prion protein from a healthy state to a pathological ...

Extracting bioactive compounds from marine microalgae

Dec 24, 2014

Microalgae can produce high value health compounds like omega-3s , traditionally sourced from fish. With declining fish stocks, an alternative source is imperative. Published in the Pertanika Journal of Tr ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.