Thursday, July 25, 2013

CIRM grantees find network of proteins that control neural stem cells

Image by Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute
Today we bring you a story about proteins that help stem cells decide when they should divide to create more specialized cells. Those same proteins also have a role in cancer.

Sound like yesterday’s entry? The difference is that today’s stem cells are in the brain while yesterday’s were in teeth, and the proteins themselves are quite different. But the similarities are many.

At the heart of both papers is the fact that scientists really don’t know what makes stem cells tick. There are also many types of stem cells lodged in tissues throughout the body, and what drives one might not be relevant for another. So scientists who want to harness those cells to treat disease are hard at work trying to learn how the cells work.

Today’s paper, which was published July 24 in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comes out of the lab of CIRM-grantee Alexey Terskikh of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. He studies how human neural stem cells become the neural progenitor cells that go on to produce mature cells of the nervous system (we've written about his work in the past). This process is important for understanding and treating diseases of the nervous system.

The work is described on the Sanford-Burnham blog. In it, they outline a series of proteins that work together to turn genes on and off within neural precursor cells. The authors suggest that having found this network of proteins they could conceivably manipulate it to fix diseases where the pathway has broken down.

Amy Adams

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