The first evidence emerges this week that it may one day be possible to treat neurodegenerative disease and central nervous system (CNS) injury by stimulating the growth and development of neural precursor cells.
In tissues that can repair themselves, such as skin and liver, dead cells may be replaced by the proliferation of nearby cells or by the activation of resident stem cells - undifferentiated cells with the potential to generate many different cell types. The brain apparently lacks this regenerative capacity, making it particularly vulnerable to injury or disease.
Cells with stem-cell-like properties are thought to occur throughout the adult CNS, but normally they give rise to neurons in only a few, restricted areas. Now Jeffrey D. Macklis, and colleagues of Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, present work (Nature, Vol. 405, Issue 6789, June 22, 2000) suggesting that these cells can be mobilized to generate new functional neurons to repair injury.
Anders Björklund and Olle Lindvall, at Lund University, Sweden, discuss this exciting work in an accompanying News and Views article.