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Basel researchers uncover the key to stem cell reproduction

Scientists at the University of Basel have discovered why stem cells no longer proliferate as we get older. In so doing, they have also discovered how this sleep mode can be reversed, opening up the possibility of new forms of treatment in the process.

Bild: Universität Basel
Image Credit: University of Basel

In research circles today, it is considered certain that stem cells can be found in the human brain that allow new nerve cells to be formed, as outlined in press release issued by the University of Basel. With increasing age, however, these stem cells transition into a "quiescent” or dormant state. A research team headed up by Verdon Taylor from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel has now discovered why the stem cells fall into a form of sleep mode.

The Basel-based researchers also investigated the signaling pathway, which is central to regulating stem cell activity within the brain. In its study published in “Cell Reports”, the researchers show that the Notch2 signaling pathway “controls the expression of a specific transcription regulator called Id4”. Once expressed, Id4 inhibits the division of stem cells and blocks the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, the University explains further. As the Notch2 signaling pathway enters into “a state of hyperactivity” as the brain ages, it would also act as a molecular brake for stem cell activity.

Based on these findings, the researchers investigated using adult mice how this braking effect can be lifted. Via the corresponding manipulation of the signaling pathway, they were successful in their attempts to stimulate the production of new nerve cells in targeted fashion. Given that most organisms have this Notch2 signaling pathway, the Basel scientists are now hoping to extrapolate their findings to humans. “In this way, brain damage caused by degenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases could be repaired in the future”, the University of Basel explained.

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