A protein that’s key to determining the developing brain’s size and shape could be used to manipulate stem cells to rebuild the organ in adults.
Researchers from the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have discovered that a form of the protein CPG15 protects brain cells from programmed cell death.
“CPG15 is one of the few molecules shown to be essential for survival of specific stem cell populations in the developing brain,” says researcher Elly Nedivi. “By controlling apoptosis, CPG15 allows the progenitor pool (of cells) to expand, and even modest changes in the size of the progenitor pool during its exponential growth phase can drastically affect the final size and shape of the cortex.”
Underscoring the protein’s impact, over-expressing it in rats gave them enlarged brains with grooves and furrows similar to those in evolved mammalian brains.
“We propose that by countering early apoptosis in specific progenitor populations, CPG15 has a role in regulating size and shape of the mammalian forebrain,” write Nedivi and colleagues.
The find could lead to new treatments for brain damage and disease. Researchers have speculated that a lack of adult stem cells in the brain contributes to memory deficits and other cognitive disorders.
CPG15 could be used to enhance the survival of existing stem cells in the brain or to grow brain cells outside the body for transplantation.