UCSF scientists have discovered a new stem cell in the developing human brain. The cell produces nerve cells that help form the neocortex – the site of higher cognitive function—and likely accounts for the dramatic expansion of the region in the lineages that lead to man, the researchers say.
Future studies of these cells are expected to shed light on developmental diseases such as autism and schizophrenia and malformations of brain development, including microcephaly, lissencephaly and neuronal migration disorders, they say, as well as age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies also will allow scientists to track the molecular steps that the cell goes through as it evolves into the nerve cell, or neuron, it produces. This information could then be used to prompt embryonic stem cells to differentiate in the culture dish into neurons for potential use in cell-replacement therapy.
The study is reported in a recent issue of the journal Nature, (vol. no. 464, 554-561; issue 7288).
“This discovery has the potential to transform our understanding of the development and evolution of the human neocortex, the most uniquely human part of the central nervous system,” says the senior author of the study, neurologist Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.
“It also should inform our understanding of developmental diseases and advance the creation of cell-based therapies. Many neurological diseases develop in neurons or the neural circuits between them. If we’re going to understand how these disorders develop, we have to better understand how the human and primate cerebral cortex develops.” …