Medical Center Researchers Discover "Housekeeping" Mechanism for Brain Stem Cells

Published: April 22, 2012

Findings offer new insights into neurologic development and regenerative therapies for neurologic disease

(New York, NY, April 22, 2012) Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have identified a molecular pathway that controls the retention and release of the brains stem cells. The discovery offers new insights into normal and abnormal neurologic development and could eventually lead to regenerative therapies for neurologic disease and injury. The findings, from a collaborative effort of the laboratories of Drs. Anna Lasorella and Antonio Iavarone, were published today in the online edition of Nature Cell Biology.

The research builds on recent studies, which showed that stem cells reside in specialized niches, or microenvironments, that support and maintain them.

From this research, we knew that when stem cells detach from their niche, they lose their identity as stem cells and begin to differentiate into specific cell types, said co-senior author Antonio Iavarone, MD, professor of Pathology and Neurology at CUMC.

However, the pathways that regulate the interaction of stem cells with their niche were obscure, said co-senior author Anna Lasorella, MD, associate professor of Pathology and Pediatrics at CUMC and a member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.

In the brain, the stem cell niche is located in an area adjacent to the ventricles, the fluid-filled spaces within the brain. Neural stem cells (NSCs) within the niche are carefully regulated, so that enough cells are released to populate specific brain areas, while a sufficient supply is kept in reserve.

Neural stem cells detaching from the vascular niche. Image credit: Anna Lasorella, CUMC /Nature Cell Biology

In previous studies, Drs. Iavarone and Lasorella focused on molecules called Id (inhibitor of differentiation) proteins, which regulate various stem cell properties. They undertook the present study to determine how Id proteins maintain stem cell identity.

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Medical Center Researchers Discover "Housekeeping" Mechanism for Brain Stem Cells