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According to Phys.org (This article and its images were originally posted on Phys.org October 17, 2018 at 02:21PM.)
Somatic stem cells are microscopic workhorses, constantly regenerating cells throughout the body: skin and the lining of the intestine, for example. And to University of Illinois neuroscientists, they represent untapped potential.
“If we could find a way to target and control stem cell proliferation in the body, there could be potential medical benefits, including turning off the proliferation of cancer stem cells or inducing proliferation of somatic stem cells where we want to grow tissue,” says Elizabeth Davis, doctoral researcher in the Neuroscience Program at U of I and lead author of a study that demonstrates, for the first time, that stem cell proliferation is directly controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The ANS controls all of our unconscious functions: breathing, blood flow, digestion, and so forth. Its two major networks of nerve fibers run from the brain through the entire body, with neurons reaching into nearly every organ. These neurons release chemicals called neurotransmitters, which can affect target cells directly or indirectly.
When neurotransmitters bind to receptors in the membranes of certain cells, they elicit a direct response within the cell. But changes in cells can also occur when neurotransmitters induce a general state of inflammation or alter blood flow, an indirect route of action for the ANS.
Prior to Davis’s study, which is published in Physiological Reports, scientists had suspected the ANS was involved in stem cell proliferation, but they didn’t know if the relationship was direct or indirect. A direct relationship could have greater implications for drug interventions to treat medical conditions.
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