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Chemical cues turn embryonic stem cells into cerebellar neurons

In order to differentiate and specialize, stem cells require very specific environmental cues in a very specific order, and scientists have so far been unable to prod them to go through each of the necessary steps. But now, for the first time, a study in mice by Rockefeller University scientists shows that embryonic stem cells implanted in the brain appear to develop into fully differentiated granule neurons, the most plentiful neuron in the cerebellum. The findings were reported Feb. 20 in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Embryonic stem cells have shown a great deal of promise for alleviating heart disease and regenerating organs. But for some of the conditions for which people hold out the most hope -- Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, for example -- there's been little evidence to date that stem cells can work. Part of the problem is that neural stem cells, especially those involved in brain development, specialize as they mature and lose their ability to diversify. They require very specific environmental cues in a very specific order, and scientists have so far been unable to prod them to go through each of the necessary steps. But now, for the first time, a new study in mice shows that embryonic stem cells implanted in the brain appear to develop into fully differentiated granule neurons, the most plentiful neurons in the cerebellum.

The cerebellum, which is tucked into the lower, rear portion of the mammalian brain, contains neural circuits that are responsible for motor learning, motor memory and sensory perception. It's also the location of 40 percent of pediatric brain tumors. Mary E. Hatten, Rockefeller's Frederick P. Rose Professor and head of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology, has been studying granule cells for 30 years; she sees her results as a step toward understanding how embryonic stem cells could be regulated in vivo and ultimately used for cell replacement therapy, especially aft
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Contact: Joseph Bonner
bonnerj@rockefeller.edu
212-327-8998
Rockefeller University
14-Mar-2007


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