Gliogenesis in the Hindbrain: A Slice Culture Approach
2008 Seed Grant
Nancy B. Schwartz, Ph.D.
University of Chicago
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of three principal cell types: neurons,
astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that glial
cells are important for many of the essential functions including mediating neuronal migration
and survival, controlling axonal regeneration, responding to regions of neuronal damage,
controlling metabolic regulation of the blood-brain barrier, and regulation of electric stimulation.
Additionally, neural stem cells in the adult brain, currently subjects of intense study due to their
potential to aid in recovery from CNS injury or disease, appear to have characteristics of
astrocytes in vivo.
Although, the factors involved in maintaining a niche for these neural stem cells, as well as in
the activation and differentiation of these cells, are not known, it seems reasonable to expect
that some of the same pathways that control glial specification may also control the
differentiation state of the neural stem cells. Understanding this process at the molecular level
would allow manipulation of these cells and provide prospects for future therapies aimed at
inducing production of new neurons in the adult brain. The ability to regenerate functional
neurons in the brain would benefit many, from victims of traumatic brain injury to sufferers of
neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, and Huntington’s disease. To
harness the potential of the neural stem cell, and to understand and modulate the response of
the brain to injury, we must understand the molecular mechanisms underlying specification and
functional integration of neurons and glia during development.