You are here

| Neural Stem Cells

Identifying and Characterizing Neural Stem Cells in the Adult Spinal Cord



Review of “Myelin Basic Protein Regulates Primitive and Definitive Neural Stem Cell Proliferation from the Adult Spinal Cord” from Stem Cells by Stuart P. Atkinson

The researchers from the laboratory of Cindi M. Morshead (University of Toronto, Canada) really are a brainy lot, but what’s more, they also have a bit of spine about them!! Recently, the team identified a rare subpopulation of primitive neural stem cells (pNSCs) from the developing and adult forebrain [1] which lie upstream of the more widely understood definitive NSCs (dNSCs) located in the adult forebrain and spinal cord.

In a new study published in Stem Cells, the enterprising group now report on the characterization of spinal cord dNSCs and their discovery of spinal cord pNSCs. Furthermore, Xu et al delineate how injury and myelin basic protein (MBP), required for the process of myelination of nerves in the nervous system, can regulate these self-renewing and multipotent NSCs types [2]. Will the identification and characterization of different neural stem cells in the adult spinal cord help to construct better-targeted regenerative therapies?

Using transgenic mice, the authors first confirmed that dNSCs derived from the spinal cord expressed Gfap, Nestin, and FoxJ1, and so displayed similar characteristics to adult forebrain-derived dNSCs. Next, employing conditions known to select for forebrain pNSCs, the authors isolated rare, LIF-responsive, Oct4+ pNSCs from along the early postnatal and adult spinal cord. Intriguingly, problems deriving adult spinal cord pNSCs arose due to the presence of MBP (absent during early post-natal periods) which inhibited cell proliferation but did not affect cell survival.

Finally, the study assessed the role of injury in amplifying the dNSC/pNSC pool, as occurs in the forebrain [1]. Interestingly, following a mild spinal cord injury of the white matter dorsal columns without disruption of the central canal, the size of the pNSC and dNSC pools also expanded. However, expanded pNSCs remained in the stem cell niche, perhaps allowing replenishment of the dNSC population, which can migrate to injury sites.

The authors hope that their studies into the different neural stem cell types in the adult spinal cord may lead to enhanced therapies to treat injuries and disease. Future studies may assess specific targeting of pNSCs, combinatorial targeting of pNSCs and dNSCs, and the functional consequences of pNSC transplantation given the acquisition of sufficient cell numbers.

Is this another step towards effective neural stem cell-based treatment for the injured spinal cord? Stay tuned to the Stem Cells Portal to find out!


  1. Sachewsky N, Leeder R, Xu W, et al. Primitive Neural Stem Cells in the Adult Mammalian Brain Give Rise to GFAP-Expressing Neural Stem Cells. Stem Cell Reports 2:810-824.
  2. Xu W, Sachewsky N, Azimi A, et al. Myelin Basic Protein Regulates Primitive and Definitive Neural Stem Cell Proliferation from the Adult Spinal Cord. Stem Cells 2017;35:485-496.