Neural Stem Cells

Neural stem cells (NSCs) are multipotent stem cells, meaning that they can differentiate into a limited numbers of cells of the neural system. Due to their limited potency they are considered to be adult stem cells. The cells they develop into are all the cells belonging to the nervous system. Specifically NSCs have the capacity to differentiate into:
  • Neurons
  • Astrocytes (star-shaped cells found in the brain and spinal cord)
  • Oligodendrocytes (a type of brain cell)
Neuron Cells

Neural stem cells are self-renewing cells that undergo symmetric cell division. This means that one "father" neural stem cell gives rise to two "daughter cells". One of the daughter cell is an exact copy with the same properties of the father cell, whereas the second daughter cell is a more specialised cell that is called progenitor cell. This progenitor cell ultimately becomes a neuron, or an astrocyte, or an oligodendrocyte.

Picture of an Oligodendrocyte cell

Neural stem cells history
In 1989, Sally Temple was the first to describe the existence of multipotent stem cells in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the mouse brain. SVZ is a paired brain structure situated throughout the lateral walls of the lateral ventricles.

Image of the Human subventricular zone.
Human subventricular zone.

In 1992, Brent A. Reynolds and Samuel Weiss became the first to successfully isolate neural stem cells and progenitors cells from brain striatal tissue of adult mice. During the same year, Constance Cepko and Evan Snyder became the first to isolate multipotent neural stem cells from the mouse cerebellum. Since then, neural stem cells and progenitor cells have been extracted from other areas (e.g. spinal cord) and other species as well, including humans.

Image of an astrocyte cell

Neural stem cell applications
Currently there is no widespread clinically approved treatment involving the use of neural stem cells. However there are many researchers working on them and it is believed that one day NSCs will help with the treatment of various neurodegenerative diseases including:
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Huntington's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease

In December 2012 the results of 11 independent studies were released. The findings concluded that neural stem cells may be a viable option for treating Amyotropic lateral sclerosis 

Human neural stem cells video

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