One of the major processes of brain development is the differentiation of neural stem cells into neurons and glia. It's a tricky process, because the brain also needs to make sure the stem cells don't proliferate out of control. In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers at the University of Southern California identified a protein called SMEK1 that promotes stem and progenitor cell differentiation. But the scientists found that SMEK1 also works with a second protein known as Protein Phosphatase 4 to suppress neurogenesis. Only when new neurons are no longer being born can neural stem cells differentiate into neurons and glial cells like astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Neural stem cell treatment has been proposed for several neurodegenerative diseases, and understanding stem cell differentiation could help scientists better harness their power.
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Journal article: Protein Phosphatase 4 and Smek Complex Negatively Regulate Par3 and Promote Neuronal Differentiation of Neural Stem/Progenitor Cells. Cell Reports, 2013.