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Stem cell death gives clue to brain cell survival

A signal that triggers half the stem cells in the developing brain to commit suicide at a stage where their survival will likely do more harm than good has been identified by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Georgia.

Identifying the factors that result in the timely, massive cell suicide is important to understanding the developmental puzzle, the researchers say of the work featured on the cover of the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology.

They say it also gives clues about cell death - and the brain's possible recovery - in devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.

MCG's Erhard Bieberich and UGA's Brian G. Condie have found that the lipid ceramide and the protein PAR-4 - each already implicated for playing a role in cell death - become deadly partners inside a dividing stem cell in the developing mouse brain.

"If PAR-4 is there and ceramide is high, the cell is lost, doomed to die," says Dr. Bieberich, biochemist at the Medical College of Georgia. "You can eliminate one of them, you can knock down the expression of PAR-4 or ceramide and the other stays up but the cell doesn't die. But if both signals are together up-regulated, then the cell is destined to die."

At a certain point in cell division, just before neurons begin forming, there is massive production of proteins and up-regulation of lipids. During that phase, decisions are made about which daughter cells get what composition of lipids and proteins, decisions that affect the cells' future function.

Typically at this point in division, the two daughter cells birthed from a single stem cell will have the same makeup and the same ultimate purpose.

Yet in a subpopulation of the stem cells involved in brain development, the scientists have documented increasing levels of ceramide in both resulting daughter cells while its death partner, PAR-4, gets handed off to only half the cells.

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Contact: Phil Williams
706-542-8501
University of Georgia
31-Jul-2003


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