The study, conducted by investigators in the UCSF Department of Neurological Surgery, is the cover story in the Feb. 19 issue of Nature.
The researchers conducted their study on brain specimens (from neurological resections and autopsies) containing the lining of the brain's fluid-filled cavity, a region known as the subventricular zone. There, they discovered a sheet of the brain's most ubiquitous cell, the astrocyte - traditionally thought of as a supportive cell for neurons in the adult brain and determined in cell culture studies that the cell has the capacity to function as a neural stem cell. They also detected fresh, young neurons within the astrocytic region that likely are the progeny of these stem cells, the researchers say.
Scientists have long viewed astrocytes as foot soldiers to the brain's far more glamorous neurons, which orchestrate thought, feeling, and movement. But the researchers determined in their cell culture studies that the star-shaped astrocytes of the region have the ability to perpetually self-renew and produce the three types of cells in the brain - neurons, oligodendrocytes (which insulate nerve cell extensions, or axons) and astrocytes.
Just what function these adult stem cells perform in the subventricular zone is unclear. It's possible, the scientists say, that the cells remain in the region for some unknown purpose. It's also possible they produce fresh neurons that migrate to other parts of the brain, replenishing neurons there throughout adult life.
In either case, the scientists want to determine if certain molecular signals or growth factors co
Contact: Jennifer OBrien
University of California - San Francisco