When cells are damaged through injury or disease, stem cells replace the cells that have been lost. In some organs of the body, repair of cells is rapid, but in others such as the heart, damaged cells are not replaced. The human brain is another organ where damaged cells are not readily regenerated, and little is known about why that is the case.
With a better understanding of the mechanisms required to activate neural stem cells (NSCs), it may be possible to develop new stem cell therapies for patients who have suffered brain injuries or have lost cells to disease.
Researchers at the UK’s University of Plymouth have been investigating the mechanisms involved in waking up neural stem cells from their usual dormant state. The researchers conducted a study on fruit flies (Drosophila) and compared messages of dormant and reactivated NSCs in the brains of live fruit flies.
The researchers found that molecules formed a complex named STRIPAK – Striatin-interacting phosphatase and kinase, which is present in a wide range of organizations including fungi, insects, and humans. They also found that STRIPAK turns off dormancy and reactivates NSCs into their active form that are capable of generating new neurons and surrounding glial cells and that STRIPAK is essential for activating NSCs.
Throughout life, NSCs usually remain in a dormant state and are only activated in specific circumstances. Understanding the mechanisms involved could help scientists develop new treatments to efficiently repair damaged parts of the brain and potentially prevent the growth of brain tumors that are fueled by stem-like cells.
Very little is known about how NSCs coordinate cues and are activated to produce new brain cells. The research provides insights into that process, which are essential for the development of NSC-based treatments.
Further information can be found in the paper – STRIPAK Members Orchestrate Hippo and Insulin Receptor Signaling to Promote Neural Stem Cell Reactivation – which was recently published in the journal Cell Reports DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.023