Human brains are especially bad at regenerating cells that were lost through injury or disease. Although treatments using neural stem cells (NSCs) hold the potential of replacing lost cells, it is necessary for scientists to better understand how NSCs behave in the brain to enable the development of effective cures.
Now research directed by the University of Plymouth sheds some new light on the mechanisms used by NSCs to ‘wake up’ i.e. get activated from their usual dormant state to one of action.
NSCs produce neurons i.e. nerve cells and surrounding glial cells in the human brain. A better understanding of how NSCs work could pave the way for cures that speed up the regeneration of neurons’ and glial cells’.
The new study was conducted by using Drosophila fruit flies demonstrated that molecules that form a signaling complex called STRIPAK are vital to promoting reactivation in NSCs. STRIPAK which stands for Striatin-interacting phosphatase and kinase is found in organisms from fungi to humans, and the team exposed it when they compared the genetic messages of dormant and reactivated NSCs in living fly brains. At that point, the researchers discovered that STRIPAK components serve as a switch to turn off dormancy or quiescence and turn on reactivation.
Lead author Dr. Claudia Barros, from the Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine at the University of Plymouth, accepts that there is still a long way ahead till such findings can be translated into real human treatments.
Even then she elucidates the significance of the new work, “So little is currently known about how neural stem cells coordinate cues to become active and direct the production of more brain cells”.
According to her, as these stem cells last throughout life mostly in a dormant state, learning how they function can be critical to our understanding of cell regeneration.
She surmised, “This study reveals that STRIPAK molecules are essential to enable reactivation in NSCs, and we are very pleased with the outcomes. But we are only at the beginning. We are working to expand our findings and bring us closer to the day when human neural stem cells can be controlled and efficiently used to facilitate brain damage repair, or even prevent brain cancer growth that is fuelled by stem-like cells.”