'Sleeping' stem cells could aid brain repair

April 5, 2018, University of Cambridge
In this image, stem cells in the Drosophila brain have been labelled as they are awakened from quiescence. Blue: quiescent stem cells. Green/Red/Yellow: stem cells that have been awakened and are generating new neurons. Credit: Andrea Brand/Leo Otsuki

Scientists at the Wellcome Trust/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, have identified a new type of stem cell in the brain which they say has a high potential for repair following brain injury or disease.

A major goal of regenerative research is to repair the efficiently following injury, for example due to stroke, Alzheimer's disease or head trauma, disease or ageing. The brain is poor at repairing itself; however, it may become possible to improve repair without surgery by targeting stem residing in patients' brains. Stem cells have the unique capacity to produce all of the cells in the brain but are normally kept inactive in a form of cellular 'sleep' known as quiescence. Quiescent cells do not proliferate or generate new cells. Thus, any regenerative therapy targeting stem cells must first awaken them from quiescence.

In a study published today in the journal Science, PhD student Leo Otsuki and his supervisor Professor Andrea Brand report the discovery in the brain of a new type of quiescent stem cell (known as 'G2 quiescent stem cell') with higher regenerative potential than quiescent stem cells identified previously. Importantly, G2 quiescent stem cells awaken to make the key types of cell in the brain - neurons and glia - much faster than known quiescent stem cells, making them attractive targets for therapeutic design.

Stem cells are labelled in red, nuclear membranes in green and DNA in blue. Credit: Andrea Brand/Leo Otsuki

"The brain is not good at repairing itself, but these newly-discovered stem cells suggest there may be a way to improve its ability," says Professor Brand. "These stem cells are in a dormant state, but once awake, they have the ability to generate key brain cells."

By studying the fruit fly (Drosophila), the authors identified a gene known as tribbles that selectively regulates G2 quiescent stem cells. The DNA of fruit flies has many similarities with that of humans, making them a useful model to understand human biology, and 60% of human associated with disease are also found in Drosophila. The tribbles gene has counterparts in the mammalian genome that are expressed in stem cells in the brain. The researchers believe that drugs that target tribbles might be one route to awakening G2 quiescent stem cells.

"We've found the gene that directs these cells to become quiescent," adds Otsuki. "The next step is to identify potential drug-like molecules that block this gene and awaken a person's stem cells.

"We believe there may be similar quiescent in other organs, and this discovery could help improve or develop new regenerative medicines."

Explore further: Structure of a stem cell niche

More information: "Cell cycle heterogeneity directs the timing of neural stem cell activation from quiescence" Science (2018). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aan8795

Related Stories

Structure of a stem cell niche

March 1, 2018

Stem cells—specialized cells that can self-renew and generate functional cells—maintain adult tissues. They reside in a specialized microenvironment, known as a niche, that regulates their self-renewal and activities. ...

Neural stem cells steered by electric fields in rat brain

July 11, 2017

Electric fields can be used to guide neural stem cells transplanted into the brain towards a specific location. The research, published July 11 in the journal Stem Cell Reports, opens possibilities for effectively guiding ...

Ryk needs a chaperone

November 27, 2017

Ryk has made the headlines by requiring a chaperone. But don't assume that Ryk is a badly behaved celebrity—it's actually a protein featured in a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS).

Using donor stem cells to treat spinal cord injury

August 28, 2017

A new study in mice published in The Journal of Neuroscience details a potential therapeutic strategy that uses stem cells to promote recovery of motor activity after spinal cord injury.

Recommended for you

Fish's use of electricity might shed light on human illnesses

June 21, 2018

Deep in the night in muddy African rivers, a fish uses electrical charges to sense the world around it and communicate with other members of its species. Signaling in electrical spurts that last only a few tenths of a thousandth ...

Not junk: 'Jumping gene' is critical for early embryo

June 21, 2018

A so-called "jumping gene" that researchers long considered either genetic junk or a pernicious parasite is actually a critical regulator of the first stages of embryonic development, according to a new study in mice led ...

0 comments

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.