Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have shown how stem cells, together with other cells, repair damaged tissue in the mouse spinal cord. The results are of potential significance to the development of therapies for spinal cord injury.
There is hope that damage to the spinal cord and brain will one day be treatable using stem cells (i.e. immature cells that can develop into different cell types). Stem cell-like cells have been found in most parts of the adult human nervous system, although it is still unclear how much they contribute to the formation of new, functioning cells in adult individuals.
A joint study by Professor Jonas Frisén's research group at Karolinska Institutet and their colleagues from France and Japan, and published in Cell Stem Cell, shows how stem cells and several other cell types contribute to the formation of new spinal cord cells in mice and how this changes dramatically after trauma. The research group has identified a type of stem cell, called an ependymal cell, in the spinal cord. They show that these cells are inactive in the healthy spinal cord, and that the cell formation that takes place does so mainly through the division of more mature cells. When the spinal cord is injured, however, these stem cells are activated to become the dominant source of new cells.
The stem cells then give rise to cells that form scar tissue and to a type of support cell that is an important component of spinal cord functionality. The scientists also show that a certain family of mature cells known as astrocytes produce large numbers of scar-forming cells after injury.
"The stem cells have a certain positive effect following injury, but not enough for spinal cord functionality to be restored," says Jonas Frisén. "One interesting question now is whether pharmaceutical compounds can be identified to stimulate the cells to form more support cells in order to improve functional recovery after a spinal trauma."
Publication: "Origin of new glial cells in the intact and injured adult spinal cord", Fanie Barnabé-Heider, Christian Göritz, Hanna Sabelström, Hirohide Takebayashi, Frank W. Pfrieger, Konstantinos Meletis & Jonas Frisén, Cell Stem Cell, print issue 8 October 2010.
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For further information, please contact:
Professor Jonas Frisén
Department of Cell and Molecular Biology
Tel: +46(0)8-524 875 62
Press Officer Katarina Sternudd
Tel: +46 (0)8-524 838 95
Karolinska Institutet is one of the world's leading medical universities. Its mission is to contribute to the improvement of human health through research and education. Karolinska Institutet accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden, and offers the country's broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. Since 1901 the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has selected the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine. More information on ki.se
Cell Stem Cell