Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Researchers discover that autophagy is crucial for the survival of neural stem cells

Researchers from the University of Michigan (U-M) just reported that after 15 years of experimentation on mice, they discovered that autophagy is essential in keeping neural stem cells (NSCs) alive and ready to replenish any damaged brain and neural cells.

In their press release, the U-M researchers first explain that deep within our brains lies a "legion" of stem cells which are in a perpetual state of readiness, waiting silently to replace any neural cells that are lost either due to trauma or ageing. They add, that this is achieved through an internal “spring cleaning” process, called autophagy, that both removes waste products produced by the NSCs and helps them to maintain their stem cell nature.

According to the corresponding paper, autophagy is governed by the FIP200 protein (also known as RB1CC1). The researchers found that the lack of this protein causes the NSCs to suffer from their waste products and also hinders their capacity to differentiate into other types of cells. Specifically, the study states that ablation of FIP200 results "in a progressive loss of neural stem cells". The paper also notes that this is the first time that autophagy is shown to be important for NSCs, although previous studies have shown its importance in hematopoietic stem cells.

“Here, we show that autophagy is crucial for maintenance of neural stem cells and differentiation, and show the mechanism by which it happens.” says Jun-Lin Guan, Ph.D., senior author of the study.

The researchers say that their findings could explain why older people are more prone to neural diseases as a slower autophagy rate would in turn hinder the ability of their bodies to replace damaged or diseased cells. If the findings are confirmed on humans, the study may pave the way for treating several neurological conditions.

A human, Golgi stained pyramidal neuron

Guan is also the leading author in an another article in which he and other scientists investigate the currently available data from similar studies that explore the crucial role of autophagy in other types of adult, embryonic and cancer stem cells.

You can read more about both studies over the official press release.

Autophagy (also known as autophagocytosis) is the basic catabolic mechanism that involves cell degradation of unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components through the lysosomal machinery. Autophagy plays a normal part in cell growth, development, and homeostasis and helps in maintaining a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products.

- Wang C, Liang CC, Bian ZC, Zhu Y, & Guan JL (2013). FIP200 is required for maintenance and differentiation of postnatal neural stem cells. Nature neuroscience PMID: 23542691
- Jun-Lin Guan, Anna Katharina Simon, Mark Prescott, Javier A. Menendez, Fei Liu, Fen Wang, Chenran Wang, Ernst Wolvetang, Alejandro Vazquez-Martin, & Jue Zhang (2013). Autophagy in stem cells Autophagy

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