Stem Cells Used to Grow New Neurons, Brain Repair Circuit Identified

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Researchers at Duke University have identified a new type of neuron within the adult brain capable of directing stem cells to make new neurons. The experiments are preliminary, but the hope is that the brain one day could be healing itself from within. Chay Kuo, M.D, Ph.D., an assistant professor of cell biology, neurobiology, and pediatrics had conducted an experiment with mice and found a population of neurons within the subventricular zone (SVZ) within the neurogenic niche of the adult brains of the mice, which was adjacent to the striatum.

The neurons expressed the enzyme choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), which was required to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The team used ontogenetic tools to tune the firing frequency of the ChAT+ neurons up and down with laser light, and they were able to view clearly changes in neural stem cell proliferation within the brain. The findings were published in an advanced edition of the June 1st Nature Neuroscience journal. The ChAT+ neuron population is just one single part of the neuron circuit that tells stem cells to increase production of neurons. Chay Kuo, M.D., assistant professor of developmental biology, and his Duke Institute for Brain Sciences colleagues discussed the process of the experiment.

In mice, the young neurons produced would be sent to the olfactory bulb, due to the mouse having a large amount of brain to process the sense of smell, and needs new neurons to stimulate and support learning. Within humans, the neurons are further spread in the brain regions, such as the striatum that mediates motor and thinking controls between the cortex and basal ganglia regions. In studies of stroke injury in rodents, results showed that SVZ cells migrating into the striatum. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the ChAT+ neurons. Up from the neurons, what do the brain signals tell the neurons to ask the stem cells to make more neurons, and downward what would control the response of the stem cells to various frequencies of ChAT+ electrical activity.


  1. Duke University. (2014, June 2). Neuron tells stem cells to grow new neurons: First piece of new brain-repair circuit identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 4, 2014 from

By: Lauren Horne

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