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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Astrocytes Are Stars of Brain Regeneration
15 June 1999 7:00 pm
A kind of star-shaped brain cell that helps support surrounding nerve cells plays a much more pivotal role in maintaining the brain's vitality than researchers had thought. According to a study in the current issue of Cell, astrocytes double as neural stem cells, the source of new nerve cells.
Neurobiologist Arturo Alvarez-Buylla of The Rockefeller University in New York City got interested in the adult mammalian brain's capacity to produce new cells after he and others discovered in the 1980s that songbirds renew large parts of their brains every year. In the current study, Alvarez-Buylla and Fiona Doetsch focused on mouse ventricles, a series of interconnected cavities in the brain. Underneath a layer of hairy cells that line these cavities, they found a region where new, slender nerve cells had formed. The fresh cells were encased in tunnels formed by appendages of cells that looked very much like astrocytes.
To track down the source of the new cells, Doetsch injected adult mouse brains with an anticancer compound that selectively kills rapidly dividing cells but leaves mature cells alone. "To our surprise, the whole region regenerated in 10 days," says Alvarez-Buylla. The team also created a mouse strain whose astrocytes carried a marker gene whose presence could be followed biochemically and with the electron microscope. Some of these cells lost their star shape and began to form new nerve cells in a brain region responsible for smell.
The finding marks an important step toward harnessing the body's rejuvenating powers for treating neurodegenerative diseases. "It's going to make [neurobiologists] look at these cells in more detail," says Susan Barnett, a neurobiologist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. "It will be interesting to see if they can be purified and used in [brain] repair."