Neural stem cells reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have reversed Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in a mouse model of the disease with injections of neural stem cells. The mice used in this study mimicked the human disease, showing learning and memory defects and accumulating both beta-amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles within the brain, the two hallmark pathologies of the disease.  Mice that received injections of mouse neural stem cells performed significantly better in memory tests than mice that received control injections. The stem cells did not replace cells lost to the disease. Instead, the injected cells secreted a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), that helped nourish the surviving neurons, encouraging those cells to grow more fibers and form more connections. The injected cells did not reduce the plaques or tangles. Current therapies for Alzheimer’s disease can only reduce the severity of symptoms or slow progression. To date, this is only the second potential treatment shown to actually improve memory in mice with advanced plaque and tangle pathology.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 11, 2009
CIRM funding: Frank LaFerla (RS1-00247-1), Matthew Blurton-Jones (T1-00008)

Related Information: UCI Press Release, University of California, Irvine, LaFerla bio


Protein required to maintain full potential of stem cells

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have pinpointed a protein that is critical for maintaining a stem cell’s full potential to self-renew and to differentiate. Stem cells lacking the protein were impaired in their ability to divide and make identical copies of themselves, called self-renewal. These cells also lost their capacity to differentiate into key cell types, such as cardiac muscle. The protein, Chd1, acts to keep chromosome strands loosely wound, which permits widespread gene activation in the cell’s nucleus. Previous studies hypothesized that this open chromosome structure is necessary in stem cells to maintain their potential to specialize into any cell type. Additional results in this study demonstrate that Chd1 is required for efficient reprogramming of adult cells, such as skin cells, back into a pluripotent state. These new insights into Chd1 function may lead to safer, more efficient methods for growing up large numbers of embryonic stem cells and deriving specific cell types, both critical steps for successful stem cell therapeutic strategies.

Nature, July 8, 2009 (online publication)
CIRM funding: Rupa Sridharan (T1-00002), Kathrin Plath (RN1-00564-1), Miguel Ramalho-Santos (RS1-00434-1)

Related Information: press release, University of California, San Francisco

Molecules found that control the development of blood vessel cells

Researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease have identified two molecules, called microRNAs, that push early heart cells to mature into the smooth muscle cells that line blood vessels. These same molecules also control when those smooth muscle cells divide to repair damage or in diseases such as cancer or atherosclerosis, which both involve unhealthy blood vessel growth. The two microRNAs, miR-145 and miR-143, are abundant in the primitive heart cells of prenatal mice, leading those cells to differentiate into various mature heart and aorta cells. After birth, both microRNAs are present mainly in smooth muscle cells, which also line the small intestine. If both microRNAs are absent, smooth muscle cells in blood vessels start multiplying. This helps heal injured blood vessels, but it can also create abnormal blood vessel growth in certain diseases. This cell proliferation can thicken blood vessels in atherosclerosis, or it can nourish tumors with blood. These findings could help scientists create smooth muscle cells from embryonic stem cells for therapeutic uses, or could lead to therapies for atherosclerosis or cancer.

Nature, July 5, 2009 (online publication)
CIRM funding: Deepak Srivastava (RC1-00142-1), Kathy Ivey (T2-00003)

Related Information: Press Release, Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, Srivastava bio

Genetic differences found between adult cell and embryonic-derived stem cells

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found genetic differences that distinguish induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from embryonic stem cells. These differences diminish over time, but never disappear entirely. iPS cells are created when adult cells, such as those from the skin, are reprogrammed to look and behave like embryonic stem cells. But until now, scientists didn’t know if the two types of stem cells were actually identical at a molecular level. This latest research shows that iPS and embryonic stem cells differ in which genes they have turned on or off. All early iPS cells share these genetic traits, regardless of what animal they come from, the type of adult cells the iPS cells start as, or what method was used to reprogram those adult cells. However, later cultures of iPS cells show that most, but not all, of these differences disappear over time, making later cultures of iPS cells more similar to embryonic stem cells. If scientists want to use iPS cells in medical therapies, this research will give them a better idea of how similar they are to embryonic stem cells.

Cell Stem Cell: July 2, 2009
CIRM funding: Mike Teitell (RS1-00313), Kathrin Plath (RN1-00564-1), William Lowry (RS1-00259-1, RL1-00681-1)

Related Information: Press Release, University of California, Los Angeles