A team of scientists from the Yale School of Medicine and the Department of Biology at the University of Pisa has identified a specific stem cell population, known as neuroepithelial stem cells, which have proved to be particularly effective in the repair in animal models of spinal cord injury. The experiment demonstrated that these cells are able to integrate within the damaged tissue, extend processes by a few centimeters after the transplant and offer motor and functional recovery in the animals subjected to the treatment. Furthermore, as the laboratory tests show, recovery is proportionate to the extent of the injury: if, for example, the spinal cord damage is not higher than 25%, there is a significant improvement in the use of the lower limbs within two months.
“Thanks to this study, it has been demonstrated for the first time that the anatomical origin of stem cells is of vital importance to the success of transplants,” explains Marco Onorati, a researcher from the University of Pisa and one of the first authors of the study published in the “Nature Communications” journal.
In fact, while similar in vitro, the neural stem cells which have the same origin as the recipient tissue (in this case the spinal cord) turned out to be much more efficient than those with a diverse origin (for example derived from the brain) at re-establishing connections with the damaged area and guaranteeing the formation of new neuronal circuits.
“Not all stem cells have the same potential,” concludes Marco Onorati, “and the knowledge we now have, thanks to this study on neuroepithelial stem cells and how they react in the case of spinal cord injury, could prove to be useful for future research.”
Neuroepithelial stem cells (in green) transplanted into the animal model of spinal cord injury (in red)
Within the field of the study, Marco Onorati, a researcher from the Unit of Cell and Developmental Biology from the Department of Biology, directed the part dealing with the derivation and characterization of the human neuroepithelial stem cells and their differentiation into mature neurons in order to study their function in vitro. The study was coordinated by Professor Steve Strittmatter from the Yale School of Medicine. The other first co-authors of the research are Maria Teresa Dell’Anno (who is at present continuing her research on stem cells in the neurological field at the Fondazione Pisana per la Scienza) and Xingxing Wang.