Duke University scientists have unraveled the controls in the brain that produce new neurons from adult stem cells throughout life. Using a mouse model, they found that the neural stem cells' neighbors, called "ependymal cells", are important in providing an environment that keeps neural stem cells young and able to continually make new neurons.

The scientists discovered that a sequence of events made the neighborhood, or stem cell "niche", conducive to neuron production. The sequence started with the neighbors, the ependymal cells. A protein called Foxj1, which turns on specific genes in cells, turned on a structural protein called Ankyrin in the ependymal cells, and subsequently these support cells formed an interlaced pinwheel-like architecture surrounding the adult neural stem cells. The structural support including as-yet-unidentified signals instructs neural stem cells to continue neuron production.

Dr. Chay Kuo, senior author on the research study published in the journal Neuron, said:

""There is this fountain of youth inside the adult brain that actively makes new neurons. We believe these findings will have important implications for human therapy."