Scientists Discover Gene That Controls Stem Cells In Central Nervous System

Medical News Today

Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) have discovered that a gene called Sox9 plays a critical role in how stem cells behave and is crucial in the development of the central nervous system. These results could potentially help researchers manipulate stem cells in the brain and develop new regenerative treatments for stroke, Alzheimer's disease or brain tumours.

Human embryos develop their nervous systems very early on, from just after two weeks into a pregnancy. From this stage, until about five weeks, the nervous system is largely made up of so-called neuroepithelial cells, which grow rapidly and lay the foundations for our brains and spinal cord. However, it is only after this stage that the various types of nerves and supporting cells seen in the central nervous system begin to appear. These come from stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into different cell types or create more of themselves.

This study shows for the first time in mice is that the gene Sox9 is required for the neuroepithelial cells to turn into these stem cells, and that it continues to be required throughout development and stem cells in the adult brain to retain their properties, such as the ability to self-renew and differentiate.

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