Recent research suggests that, throughout life, the adult brain retains a limited capacity to make new neurons. This new knowledge has led to a surge of interest in adult stem cells found in the brain. Two specific areas in the brain are known to generate new neurons. By studying stem cells in these areas, investigators like The Miami Project’s Daniel Liebl, Ph.D. hope to identify how neurogenesis – the formation of new neurons – is regulated in the adult nervous system.
“Research toward future Neuron replacement strategies may take two forms,” suggests Dr. Leibl. “One strategy may involve triggering stem cells within the nervous system to move to and mature in the injured area. Another strategy may involve manipulation of stem cells in culture dishes prior to transplantation.”
Dr. Liebl and his colleagues have been conducting studies to understand the influence various molecules have in the transformation of adult neural stem cells to nerve cells. Currently, they are interested in a family of molecules called ephrins. Dr. Liebl reports, “Our studies suggest Ephrins may play an important role in adult neurogenesis. We also have evidence suggesting that ephrins may help guide nerve fiber growth and regulate the function of synapses.”
One of the goals in Miami Project laboratories is to learn how stem cells can be “turned on” to replace damaged neurons. Ongoing studies, like those of Dr. Liebl, could be of great value in the design of future cell replacement strategies.