Neural stem cells: Brain building blocks and beyond
Neural stem cells are the origins of neurons and glia and generate all the differentiated neural cells of the mammalian central nervous system via the formation of intermediate precursors. Although less frequent, neural stem cells persevere in the postnatal brain where they generate neurons and glia. Adult neurogenesis occurs throughout life in a few limited brain regions. Regulation of neural stem cell number during central nervous system development and in adult life is associated with rigorous control. Failure in this regulation may lead to e.g. brain malformation, impaired learning and memory, or tumor development. Signaling pathways that are perturbed in glioma are the same that are important for neural stem cell self-renewal, differentiation, survival, and migration. The heterogeneity of human gliomas has impeded efficient treatment, but detailed molecular characterization together with novel stem cell-like glioma cell models that reflect the original tumor gives opportunities for research into new therapies. The observation that neural stem cells can be isolated and expanded in vitro has opened new avenues for medical research, with the hope that they could be used to compensate the loss of cells that features in several severe neurological diseases. Multipotent neural stem cells can be isolated from the embryonic and adult brain and maintained in culture in a defined medium. In addition, neural stem cells can be derived from embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells by in vitro differentiation, thus adding to available models to study stem cells in health and disease.
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