Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology and Director of the GW Institute for Neuroscience in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to identify molecular mechanisms that define embryonic olfactory epithelium (OE) stem cells. These stem cells, once established in the developing nose, regulate lifelong genesis of olfactory receptor neurons--the cells that mediate the sense of smell--and are likely pathogenic targets for neurological and psychiatric diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases and schizophrenia.
"Olfactory epithelial stem cells are the only neural stem cells in humans that constantly make new neurons that make new connections over a lifetime. If we can understand how the nervous system establishes stem cells that can provide for ongoing replacement and repair, we will be able to create an outline of how one might harness the same mechanisms to repair parts of the brain that do not normally regenerate or recover after damage," said Dr. LaMantia.
Stem cells in the embryonic vertebrate olfactory epithelium generate critical peripheral chemosensory and central neuroendocrine neurons essential for feeding, social interactions, and reproduction. Dr. LaMantia and his colleagues defined the identity of these stem cells over the past several years. Nevertheless, the mechanisms for establishing and maintaining these olfactory epithelial stem cells remain unknown. Now, GW researchers, lead by Dr. LaMantia will define molecular mechanisms that the network of genes essential to define OE stem cell identity and their ability to make the mautre neurons that insure the sense of smell throughout a lifetime.
Dr. LaMantia places this work in the larger context of understanding neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases: "It is likely that the decline of the sense of smell early in the course of diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and schizophrenia is due to disruptions in the genetic network that keeps olfactory epithelium stem cells able to do their job of making new olfactory neurons. Some of the same mechanisms most likely keep neurons healthy elsewhere in the nervous system, or manage the more limited ongoing repair of connections that must occur to keep a brain healthy and functioning".
Dr. LaMantia and his team were awarded $1.6 million in total costs over 5 years.
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