Neural stem cells: an overview

Circ Res. 2003 Apr 4;92(6):598-608. doi: 10.1161/01.RES.0000065580.02404.F4.


This review focuses on the nature and functional properties of stem cells of the adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS). It has recently been shown that cell turnover, including neurons, does occur in the mature CNS, thanks to the persistence of precursor cells that possess the functional characteristics of bona-fide neural stem cells (NSCs) within restricted brain areas. We discuss how the subventricular zone of the forebrain (SVZ) is the most active neurogenetic area and the richest source of NSCs. These NSCs ensure a life-long contribution of new neurons to the olfactory bulb and, when placed in culture, can be grown and extensively expanded for months, allowing the generation of stem cell lines, which maintain stable and constant functional properties. A survey of the differentiation potential of these NSCs, both in vitro and in vivo, outlines their extreme plasticity that seems to outstretch the brain boundaries, so that these neuroectodermal stem cells may give rise to cells that derive from developmentally distinct tissues. A critical discussion of the latest, controversial findings regarding this surprising phenomenon is provided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / physiology
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage
  • Central Nervous System / cytology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Nervous System / cytology
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Prosencephalon / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology*