Adult neurogenesis is a lifelong process that occurs in two main neurogenic niches of the brain, namely in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the lateral ventricles and in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus (DG) in the hippocampus. In the 1960s, studies on adult neurogenesis have been hampered by the lack of established phenotypic markers. The precise tracing of neural stem/progenitor cells (NPCs) was therefore, not properly feasible. After the (partial) identification of those markers, it was the lack of specific tools that hindered a proper experimental elimination and tracing of those cells to demonstrate their terminal fate and commitment. Nowadays, irradiation, cytotoxic drugs as well as genetic tracing/ablation procedures have moved the field forward and increased our understanding of neurogenesis processes in both physiological and pathological conditions. Newly formed NPC progeny from the SVZ can replace granule cells in the olfactory bulbs of rodents, thus contributing to orchestrate sophisticated odor behavior. SGZ-derived new granule cells, instead, integrate within the DG where they play an essential role in memory functions. Furthermore, converging evidence claim that endogenous NPCs not only exert neurogenic functions, but might also have non-neurogenic homeostatic functions by the release of different types of neuroprotective molecules. Remarkably, these non-neurogenic homeostatic functions seem to be necessary, both in healthy and diseased conditions, for example for preventing or limiting tissue damage. In this review, we will discuss the neurogenic and the non-neurogenic functions of adult NPCs both in physiological and pathological conditions.
Keywords: bystander effect; germinal niches; inflammation; neural stem cells; neurogenesis; transplantation.