The results of a study published in the April issue of Stem Cells and Development suggest that human stem cells derived from bone marrow are predisposed to develop into a variety of nerve cell types, supporting the promise of developing stem cell-based therapies to treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
The paper, entitled "Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Express Neural Genes, Suggesting a Neural Predisposition," is available free online.
These results lend a perspective to stem cell differentiation and suggest that multipotential stem cells may express a wide variety of genes at low levels and that stem cells achieve their remarkable plasticity by downregulating the expression of many of these background genes.
In an accompanying editorial, journal Editor-in-Chief, Denis English, Ph.D., writes, "The theory invokes the term 'stem state' to indicate this property, which is characterized by a 'neural predisposition' of stem cells."
"This contrasts with the conventional view that MSCs exclusively express mesenchymal genes and only express genes of advanced structures in response to differentiation signals."
He proposes that, "Contrary to our current thinking, stem cells are in no sense primitive cells. In fact, stem cells may well be the most advanced cells the organism produces."
The authors of the report propose this new view of adult stem cell plasticity based on their findings that bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells grown in the laboratory express an extensive assortment of neural genes, genes linked to the neuro-dopaminergic system, and transcription factors that control genes having neural significance.
They conclude that these MSCs are predisposed to differentiate into neuronal cells given the proper conditions.
When transplanted into the central nervous system, they will develop into a variety of functional neural cell types, making them a potent resource for cell-based therapy.