In the brain, there are three different types of brain stem cells, different from other stem cells in the body. Some turn into neurons, others become astrocytes, and the third type turns into oligodendrocytes. All three types remain inactive in the brain until damage occurs and new ones are needed. The activation and formation of the different cells are of great interest to scientists, as this is thought to hold the key to certain disease prevention or treatment.
Brain stem cells are quite different from any other types of stem cells. These are unspecialized cell that will turn into different components of the brain and spinal cord when needed. They are classified as belonging to adults, which are different from those that are embryonic or induced pluripotent. Induced pluripotent cells are regular cells that have been turned into stem cells in a lab, while embryonic cells are from embryos.
Induced pluripotent and embryonic types can turn into any component of the body, not just brain components. Brain stem cells can only turn into certain types of cells, those found in the brain and spinal cord. The final type is limited on the tissue origin. Those from the brain cannot turn into skin or blood cells, only what is present in the spinal cord and brain.
Neural brain stem cells are those in the brain that turn into neurons. These are very important for several types of diseases including Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. Scientists believe that determining what triggers this type of regeneration may hold the key to preventing or treating these diseases.
Stem cells in the brain that turn into oligodendrocyts are important to the spinal cord. Oligodendrocyts are cells that provide insulation and protection to the nerves along the spinal cord. Research investigates how these may be able to fix spinal cord damage. Damage due to injury or diseases such as cerebral palsy may benefit from treatment with stem cell therapies.
A third type of brain stem cells will regenerate into astrocytes. These are typically shaped like stars and provide nutrients to tissues, repair brain damage, and support cells at the blood-brain barrier. A great deal of research has been conducted on these, as they can also turn into tumors.
The potential usage of these items in the brain include a better understanding of human development. Other research looks to find the relationship between active and inactive genes and differentiation. Stem lines are used to test new drugs and development of cell based therapies.