Memory, learning linked to protein in brain stem cells

June 11, 2013 | by Darrin Joy


The Wnt7a protein helps stem cells develop in the brain. The findings were featured on the cover of the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology. The Wnt7a protein helps stem cells develop in the brain. The findings, and this illustration, were featured on the cover of the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.


Our ability to maintain brain function and preserve learning and memory are at the core of City of Hope research just published in Molecular Cell Biology.

Here, lead author Yanhong Shi, Ph.D., an associate professor in the departments of Neurosciences and Radiation Biology, explains the significance of her paper “Wnt7a Regulates Multiple Steps of Neurogenesis.”

What’s the main finding of this study? In this study, we demonstrated a unique role for Wnt7a signaling in multiple steps of neurogenesis, a process that is critical to maintaining our brain function and preserving our learning and memory. Using a mouse model with deletion of the Wnt7a gene, we showed that Wnt7a is essential for perpetuating stem cells in the brain, for converting these brain stem cells into neurons, a type of brain cell that makes our brain function, and for ensuring these neurons mature.

What kind of impact do you expect the study findings to have? This study will further our understanding on how our brain functions. Because Wnt7a regulates multiple steps of neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a brain region that is critical for learning and memory, we expect that this study will provide insights into how learning and memory are regulated, which in turn may allow us to develop new tools to enhance our learning and memory in the future.

What does this publication mean to you personally? This study is the continuation of our study on Wnt signaling that was published in Nature Cell Biology in 2010. In the 2010 publication, we demonstrated that TLX-Wnt signaling is essential for neural stem cell proliferation and self-renewal. In this study, we showed that Wnt signaling is not only critical for maintaining the brain stem cell pools, but also important for deriving mature, functional neurons from these brain stem cells. This knowledge is important for us to better understand how our brain works and will provide insights into how we can enhance our brain function. This study suggests that modulating Wnt signaling will help us to improve learning and memory. Since memory loss is the major symptom of Alzheimer’s disease patients, this study may provide a potential solution to help Alzheimer’s patients to preserve their memory.

Other authors on the study include Qiuhao Qu, Guoqiang Sun, Kiyohito Murai, Peng Ye, Wendong Li, Grace Asuelime and Yuen-Ting Cheung.

This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01 NS059546 and RC1 NS068370 and by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine grants TR2-01832 and RB4-06277.

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