Research ArticleStem Cells

Multimodal Actions of Neural Stem Cells in a Mouse Model of ALS: A Meta-Analysis

Science Translational Medicine  19 Dec 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 165, pp. 165ra164
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004579

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Stem Cells to the Rescue

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease is an untreatable fatal disorder characterized by rapid and unremitting degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord that enable movement and respiration. Multiple processes involving these neurons and other cell types have been implicated as the cause of this disease. Neural stem cells (NSCs) normally function in the nervous system to create structures during development and to restore function to damaged systems throughout life. When these cells are isolated from the nervous system, grown and expanded in a dish, and then transplanted back into a diseased or injured part of the nervous system, they are thought to be able to perform at least some of these same tasks by producing therapeutic factors, improving the milieu, rescuing dying neurons, protecting neural connections, and reducing inflammation. Transplanted NSCs might be able to ameliorate some of the pathological processes that occur in ALS. Teng et al. now test this hypothesis by performing a meta-analysis of 11 studies that have transplanted mouse or human NSCs into the spinal cord of the transgenic mutant SOD1 ALS mouse. The authors found that disease onset and progression were slowed, such that extensive, often motor symptom-reduced, survival was predictably achievable in a subset of animals. This was particularly noticeable in those mice where transplanted NSCs covered a large part of the spinal cord including regions mediating vital functions such as respiration. The benefits of transplanted NSCs seem to be derived from a number of different actions including production of trophic factors, preservation of neuromuscular function, and a reduction in astrogliosis and inflammation. Through multiple modulatory mechanisms, NSCs may have potential for treating ALS and other untreatable degenerative diseases.