Adult neural stem cells: Long-term self-renewal, replenishment by the immune system, or both?

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The current model of adult neurogenesis in mammals suggests that adult-born neurons are generated by stem cells that undergo long-term self-renewal, and that a lifetime supply of stem cells resides in the brain. In contrast, it has recently been demonstrated that adult-born neurons in crayfish are generated by precursors originating in the immune system. This is particularly interesting because studies done many years ago suggest that a similar mechanism might exist in rodents and humans, with bone marrow providing stem cells that can generate neurons. However, the relevance of these findings for natural mechanisms underlying adult neurogenesis in mammals is not clear, because of uncertainties at many levels. We argue here that the recent findings in crayfish send a strong signal to re-examine existing data from rodents and humans, and to design new experiments that will directly test the contributions of the immune system to adult neurogenesis in mammals.

Studies in humans, rodents and crustaceans have suggested that the immune system may be a source of stem cells that can generate adult-born neurons. Are these findings relevant only for regenerative medicine, or might these data implicate the immune system in natural physiological mechanisms?

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