Astrocytes play starring role in neural stem cell development

ct them to divide.

"But the big surprise was that the stem cells were adopting a neuronal fate at about six times the rate they were on fibroblasts," said Stevens. "The astrocytes either instruct the progenitors to adopt a neuronal fate or form an environment that induces or permits that fate. We're not exactly sure what word to use, because we don't know what the mechanism is," he said.

In additional experiments, the researchers found that adult astrocytes were about half as effective as embryonic astrocytes in promoting neurogenesis in adult neural stem cells.

One intriguing implication of the experiments, said Stevens, is that astrocytes involvement in neuronal growth regulation might explain why neural stem cells can regenerate neurons in areas of the brain such as the hippocampus, but not in the spinal cord, where they mature into glial cells.

"It was surprising to us that the stained stem cells from the hippocampus would only produce neurons when grown on glia from the hippocampus, but they hardly made any neurons at all when we grew them on glia from the spinal cord," said Stevens.

"While it is only speculation at this point, it may be that spinal cords fail to regenerate not because the stem cells aren't there, but because there is something missing in their glial cells. Thus, developing spinal cord regeneration therapies might mean supplying some factor produced by glial cells," said Stevens.


Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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