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Int J Dev Biol. 2004;48(8-9):993-1001.

Retinal stem cells in vertebrates: parallels and divergences.

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Laboratoire d'Embryologie Moleculaire et Experimentale, UMR 8080, Universite Paris XI, Orsay, France.


During the development of the nervous system, after a given number of divisions, progenitors exit the cell cycle and differentiate as neurons or glial cells. Some cells however do not obey this general rule and persist in a progenitor state. These cells, called stem cells, have the ability to self-renew and to generate different lineages. Understanding the mechanisms that allow stem cells to "resist" differentiating stimuli is currently one of the most fascinating research areas for biologists. The amphibian and fish retinas, known to contain stem cell populations, have been pioneering models for neural stem cell research. The Xenopus retina enabled the characterization of the genetic processes that occur in the path from a pluripotent stem cell to a committed progenitor to a differentiated neuron. More recently, the discovery that avian and mammalian retinas also contain stem cell populations, has contributed to the definitive view of the adult nervous system of upper vertebrates as a more dynamic and plastic structure than previously thought. This has attracted the attention of clinicians who are attempting to employ stem cells for transplantation into damaged tissue. Research in this area is promising and will represent a key instrument in the fight against blindness and retinal dystrophies. In this review, we will focus primarily on describing the main characteristics of various retinal stem cell populations, highlighting their divergences during evolution, and their potential for retinal cell transplantation. We will also give an overview of the signaling cascades that could modulate their potential and plasticity.

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