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Contrary to widely held belief, a small number of new neurons are generated in the adult brain and even in the aging brain. Although this adult neurogenesis is minute compared with the vast number of neurons in our brains, and although adult neurogenesis does not lead to substantial regeneration in cases of neuronal loss, the new neurons may serve an important function in learning and memory processes. Adult neurogenesis is neuronal development in nucleo and is controlled by genetic and environmental factors. It exemplifies that, throughout life, brain development is activity and experience dependent, and, more important, that it never ends.
“Adult neurogenesis” is the generation of new nerve cells in the adult brain (Fig. 4.1), a process that was long believed to be impossible, although it occurs in both nonhuman primates (Gould et al., 1999) and humans (Eriksson et al., 1998). Today, adult neurogenesis has become a prime topic in biomedical research because of its implications for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and essentially all diseases that involve a loss of nerve cells (neurons). Because it is the stem cells residing in the adult brain from which new neurons originate in adult neurogenesis, many researchers believe that we might learn from adult neurogenesis how to “grow” stem cells into new neurons for transplantation – in cases of Parkinson's disease, for example (Bjorklund & Lindvall, 2000).
Jeffrey D. MacKlis, Department of Neurology, MGH-HMS Center for Nervous System Repair, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA,
Gerd Kempermann, Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), Berlin-Buch, Germany
This chapter deals with adult neurogenesis and examines what is known about the behavior and function of precursor cells in the adult brain. It outlines few examples of normally occurring neurogenesis in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), and describes adult neural precursors. Functional adult neurogenesis occurs in many non-mammalian vertebrates. The chapter reviews a few lines of recent research demonstrating that endogenous neural precursors can be induced to differentiate into neurons in regions of the adult brain that do not normally undergo neurogenesis. In the adult mammalian brain, neurogenesis normally occurs only in the olfactory bulb and the dentate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus. Transplantation studies support the concept of neurogenic and non-neurogenic regions, and provide evidence about the role of the microenvironment in realizing the potential of neuronal stem or progenitor cells. Neuronal replacement therapies based on manipulation of endogenous precursors may be possible in the future.
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