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Brain Power: Stem cells put a check on nerve disorders

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11:30am, July 13, 2005

Famous for their capacity to turn into any type of nerve cell, adult neural stem cells can also serve as anti-inflammation police in the brain, researchers have found. When injected into mice with an inflammatory brain disorder similar to multiple sclerosis, these versatile cells home in on and destroy certain bloodborne inflammatory immune cells.

In addition to serving as a source of replacement cells for damaged neurons, the stem cells act as anti-inflammatory drugs that target sites of nerve damage, says Stefano Pluchino of San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy.

Even more important, the injected mouse stem cells survived repeated inflammatory episodes characteristic of chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, report Pluchino, team leader Gianvito Martino, and their coworkers in the July 14 Nature. The stem cells escape damage by remaining undifferentiated and therefore less vulnerable to immune system attack, the researchers suggest.

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