Thursday, June 20, 2013

Researchers explain how neural stem cells create new and varied neurons

A new study examining the brains of fruit flies reveals a novel stem cell mechanism that may help explain how neurons form in humans. A paper on the study by researchers at the University of Oregon appeared in the online version of the journal Nature in advance of the June 27 publication date.

"The question we confronted was 'How does a single kind of stem cell, like a neural stem cell, make all different kinds of neurons?'" said Chris Doe, a biology professor and co-author on the paper "Combinatorial temporal patterning in progenitors expands neural diversity."

Researchers have known for some time that stem cells are capable of producing new cells, but the new study shows how a select group of stem cells can create progenitors that then generate numerous subtypes of cells.

"Instead of just making 100 copies of the same neuron to expand the pool, these progenitors make a whole bunch of different neurons in a particular way, a sequence," Doe said. "Not only are you bulking up the numbers but you're creating more neural diversity."

The study, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, builds on previous research from the Doe Lab published in 2008. That study identified a special set of stem cells that generated neural progenitors. These so-called intermediate neural progenitors (INPs) were shown to blow up into dozens of new cells. The research accounted for the number of cells generated, but did not explain the diversity of new cells.

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