Professor Charles ffrench – Constant, University of Edinburgh
Professor Eli Keshet, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The ability of humans to learn and remember new facts and experiences depends in part on the formation of new neurons from a small population of stem cells in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. As this formation of new neurons decreases as we get older, and appears to be significantly reduced in patients with depression, it is important to understand how these stem cells are triggered to generate the neurons. One important part of the region of the hippocampus where stem cells are found are blood vessels that are thought to provide signals for regulating stem cell activity.
This project examined the relationship between these blood vessels and the hippocampal stem cells, taking advantage of the complimentary expertise of the ffrench-Constant lab in stem cell biology and the Keshet lab in blood vessel biology. Working together and with students moving between the two labs, the researchers discovered that increasing blood vessel number can reduce the effects of ageing on hippocampal stem cells and identified molecules that might mediate this effect. Work is now continuing to prove the role of these molecules, with the long-term goal being the identification of drug targets for promoting stem cell activity. Another important achievement of this project has been the training of a young psychiatrist in stem cell and vascular biology, who is now committed to a career in academic medicine.