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Neural stem cells can develop into functional neurons

Researchers have found that neural stem cells isolated from the brains of adult rats can mature into functional neurons. Stem cells, which are found in tissues throughout the body, are immature progenitor cells that give rise to more specialized cells that form tissues and organs.

The scientists emphasized that although their studies show that adult stem cells have the capacity to develop into functioning brain cells, their findings do not mean that clinical application of adult neural stem cells is imminent. The studies were published April 15, 2002, in an advance online article in Nature Neuroscience by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator Charles F. Stevens and colleagues Hong-jun Song, an HHMI research associate, and Fred H. Gage at The Salk Institute.

According to Stevens, previous experiments showed that adult neural stem cells bear molecular markers that suggested that they could become neurons. Its absolutely clear that embryonic stem cells can make perfectly good neurons, otherwise there would be no development of the brain, said Stevens. But nobody had demonstrated before that adult stem cells can generate fully functional neurons, beyond just having particular protein markers.

To see whether adult neural stem cells possessed the ability to develop into functional neurons, Gage and his colleagues first isolated stem cells from the hippocampal region of the rat brain and then tagged the cells with fluorescent molecules that made it possible for the researchers to track the stem cells as they developed. The scientists co-cultured these tagged cells along with normal adult neurons on a carpet of supporting cells called astrocytes, which are known to produce chemical signals that trigger neuronal growth.

The normal neurons were necessary to show that our stem-cell-generated neurons were genuine, in the sense that they could incorporate i
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
14-Apr-2002


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