Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Brain development - the pivotal role of the stem cell environment

Max Planck researchers explain why iodine deficiency during pregnancy may have disastrous consequences

Higher mammals, such as humans, have markedly larger brains than other mammals. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden recently discovered a new mechanism governing brain stem cell proliferation.

Hirn-Stammzellen (rot) in der embryonalen Großhirnrinde der Maus (Zellkerne: blau).

© MPI f. molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik, Dresden/ D. Stenzel

It serves to boost the production of neurons during development, thus causing the enlargement of the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that enables us humans to speak, think and dream. The surprising discovery made by the Dresden-based researchers: two components in the stem cell environment – the extracellular matrix and thyroid hormones – work together with a protein molecule found on the stem cell surface, a so-called integrin.

This likely explains why iodine deficiency in pregnant women has disastrous consequences for the unborn child, affecting its brain development adversely – without iodine, no thyroid hormones are produced. “Our study highlights this relationship and provides a potential explanation for the condition neurologists refer to as cretinism”, says Wieland Huttner, Director at the Max Planck Institute in Dresden. This neurological disorder severely impairs the mental abilities of a person.

In the course of evolution, certain mammals, notably humans, have developed larger brains than others, and therefore more advanced cognitive abilities. Mice, for example, have brains that are around a thousand times smaller than the human one. In their study, which was conducted in cooperation with the Fritz Lipmann Institute in Jena, the researchers in Dresden wanted to identify factors that determine brain development, and understand how larger brains have evolved.

A cosy bed for brain stem cells

Brain neurons are generated from stem cells called basal progenitors that are able to proliferate in humans, but not in mice. In humans, basal progenitors are surrounded by a special environment, a so-called extracellular matrix (ECM), which is produced by the progenitors themselves. Like a cosy bed, it accommodates the proliferating cells. Mice lack such ECM, which means that they generate fewer neurons and have a smaller brain.

The scientists therefore conducted tests to see whether in mice, basal progenitors start to proliferate if a comparable cell environment is simulated. The result: “We simulated an extracellular matrix for the brain stem cells using a stimulating antibody. This antibody activates an integrin on the cell surface of basal progenitors and thus stimulates their proliferation”, explains Denise Stenzel, who headed the experiments.

Because a requirement of thyroid hormones for proper brain development was previously known, the researchers blocked the production of these hormones in pregnant rats to see if their absence would inhibit basal progenitor proliferation in the embryos. Indeed, fewer progenitors and, consequently, neurons were produced, likely explaining the abnormal brain development in the absence of thyroid hormones. When the action of these hormones on the integrin was blocked, the ECM-simulating antibody alone was no longer able to induce basal progenitor proliferation.

A combination of ECM and thyroid hormones thus appears necessary for basal progenitors to proliferate and produce enough neurons for brain development. Human brain stem cells produce the suitable environment naturally. “That is probably how, in the course of evolution, we humans developed larger brains”, says Wieland Huttner, summing up the study. The research produced another important finding: “We were able to explain the role of iodine in embryonic brain development at the cellular level”, says Denise Stenzel. Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, and an iodine deficiency in pregnant women is known to have adverse effects on the brain development of the unborn child.

Prof. Dr. Wieland B. Huttner
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden
Phone: +49 351 210-1500
Fax: +49 351 210-1600
Denise Stenzel
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden
Phone: +49 35 1210-2461
Original publication
Stenzel, Denise; Wilsch-Bräuninger, Michaela; Wong, Fong Kuan; Heuer, Heike; Huttner, Wieland B.

Integrin αvβ3 and thyroid hormones promote expansion of progenitors in embryonic neocortex

Development (2014) doi: 10.1242/dev.101907

Prof. Dr. Wieland B. Huttner | Max-Planck-Institute
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>