Researchers identify a new type of skin-related stem cell in a mouse model study that holds promise for restoring lost myelin in neurodegenerative disorders.
Formed from oligodendrocytes, the myelin sheath provides insulation for the neurons of the central nervous system, preventing degeneration and allowing for rapid transmission of action potentials via saltatory conduction. Loss of this insulating layer can be associated with various neurodegenerative disorders, most notably multiple sclerosis (MS). With available treatment options for MS limited, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM; MD, USA) have identified a type of skin-related stem cell that, by restoring the lost myelin, could provide a new therapeutic approach.
"This research enhances the possibility of identifying human skin stem cells that can be isolated, expanded, and used therapeutically."
Using a mouse model, the team identified a specific version of a cell known as a melanocyte stem cell. A precursor to cells of the skin and hair that produce melanin, these stem cells can divide without limit and can make different types of cells, depending on the type of signals that they receive from their environment. Unlike the more commonly-used embryonic stem cell, harvesting of the melanocyte stem cell is minimally-invasive, as they can be taken from the skin.
Following the cell’s identification, the UMSOM group investigated the potential applications for the cell in treating neurodegenerative disorders. They found that, under the right conditions, isolated in vitro cells could be induced to become cells that produce myelin and the cells behaved in a similar way to the glial oligodendrocyte and ultimately, could form a myelin sheath around a healthy neuron. The same effect occurred when they moved to in vivo models with mice who were treated with the stem cells showing myelin sheath structures in their brain as opposed to the untreated mice who did not. Full results were recently published in PLoS Genetics.
Principle investigator Thomas J. Hornyak commented: “This research enhances the possibility of identifying human skin stem cells that can be isolated, expanded, and used therapeutically. In the future, we plan to continue our research in this area by determining whether these cells can enhance functional recovery from neuronal injury”
“This research holds promise for treating serious neurodegenerative diseases that impact millions of people each year. Our researchers at the UMSOM have discovered what could be a critical and non-invasive way to use stem cells as a therapy for these diseases,” added Dean of UMSOM, E. Albert Reece.
Written By Jenny Straiton
Source Joshi SS, Tandukar B, Pan L et al. CD34 defines melanocyte stem cell subpopulations with distinct regenerative properties. PLoS Genet. 15 (4), e1008034 (2019); https://www.medschool.umaryland.edu/news/2019/UMSOM-Researchers-Discover-Certain-Skin-Related-Stem-Cells-Could-Help-in-Treating-Neurogenerative-Diseases.html https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1008034