Neural stem cells were a hot topic at the recent Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, and City of Hope investigators were quick to contribute their expertise.
Two City of Hope investigators reported on different migration behaviors of stem cells in the brain: Michael Barish, Ph.D., analyzed why stem cells home to brain tumors, while Xiuyun Wang, Ph.D., monitored the normal migration of stem cells in developing mouse brains.
Barish, professor and chair in the Division of Neurosciences, presented data describing how human neural stem cells migrate toward tumors. He performed the research in collaboration with Karen Aboody, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Hematology & Hematopoietic Transplantation, and Carlotta Glackin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Molecular Medicine.
Previous research from Aboody’s and Glackin’s labs demonstrates that investigators can take advantage of stem cell migration to deliver antitumor therapies to brain tumor cells.
The team observed cultured stem cells over time as they crept toward nearby tumor cells. When the researchers artificially blocked a specific chemical signal in the stem cells, migration was partially inhibited. This suggests that stem cells use that pathway to decode signals sent from tumor cells.
Identifying those signals may answer basic biological questions and also suggest novel therapies, Barish said. “Looking at the molecular pattern of stem cell homing to brain tumors should reveal the underlying logic of the process and enable further development of neural stem cellmediated tumor-killing therapies,” he said.
In a different session, Wang outlined a method to identify switches that activate genes in the right place at the right time. The method uses a technique called in utero electroporation, which employs a mild electric current to drive DNA into living brain cells of a mouse embryo while still in the womb. The session was chaired by Qiang Lu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Neurosciences. Wang was formerly in Lu’s lab.
Wang and Lu applied the method to test a newly identified piece of DNA that switches on genes in neural stem cells just as they mature into adult neurons. Because the DNA is tagged with a fluorescent tracer, it glows and allows scientists to see the maturing neurons under a microscope.
“The decision of a neural cell to remain a stem cell or become a neuron depends on expression of specific sets of genes,” Lu said. “The method we have developed is useful to study how such expression is regulated.”
Heather Johnston and Stephen Kendall, Ph.D., contributed to Barish’s poster. Other contributors to Lu’s study included Runxiang Qiu, Ph.D., and Walter Tsark, Ph.D.
The November event in San Diego was the annual scientific meeting for the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization of researchers who study the brain.