Alexandra L. Joyner, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at New York University School of Medicine, and her former postdoctoral fellow, Sohyun Ahn, who is now at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, published their findings in the October 6, 2005, issue of the journal Nature. They said the technique they used to trace the fate of stem cells could also be used to understand the roles of stem cells in tissue repair and cancer progression.
Joyner said that previous studies by her lab and others had shown that a regulatory protein called Sonic hedgehog (Shh) orchestrates the activity of an array of genes during development of the brain. Scientists also knew that Shh played a role in promoting the proliferation of neural stem cells. However, Joyner said the precise role of Shh in regulating stem cell self-renewal -- the process whereby stem cells divide and maintain an immature state that enables them to continue to generate new cells -- was unknown.
In the studies published in Nature, Joyner and Ahn developed genetic techniques that enabled them to label neural stem cells in adult mice that are responding to Shh signaling at any time point so they could study which stem cells respond to Shh.
Other researchers had shown that transient bursts of Shh signaling caused neural stem cells to proliferate and create new neurons. But a central question remained, said Joyner. At issue was whether resting, or quiescent, cells -- which are important for long-term function -- responded to Shh signaling. Or was the response limited to the actively dividing stem cells with a short
Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute