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Stem Cells Dev. 2012 Aug 10;21(12):2252-61. doi: 10.1089/scd.2011.0613. Epub 2012 Feb 15.

Cyp26b1 mediates differential neurogenicity in axial-specific populations of adult spinal cord progenitor cells.

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Department of Biochemistry, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China.


Utilization of endogenous adult spinal cord progenitor cells (SCPCs) for neuronal regeneration is a promising strategy for spinal cord repair. To mobilize endogenous SCPCs for injury repair, it is necessary to understand their intrinsic properties and to identify signaling factors that can stimulate their neurogenic potential. In this study, we demonstrate that adult mouse SCPCs express distinct combinatorial Hox genes and exhibit axial-specific stem cell properties. Lumbar-derived neurospheres displayed higher primary sphere formation and greater neurogenicity compared with cervical- and thoracic-derived neurospheres. To further understand the mechanisms governing neuronal differentiation of SCPCs from specific axial regions, we examined the neurogenic responses of adult SCPCs to retinoic acid (RA), an essential factor for adult neurogenesis. Although RA is a potent inducer of neuronal differentiation, we found that RA enhanced the generation of neurons specifically in cervical- but not lumbar-derived cells. We further demonstrate that the differential RA response was mediated by the RA-degrading enzyme cytochrome P450 oxidase b1 Cyp26b1. Lumbar cells express high levels of Cyp26b1 and low levels of the RA-synthesizing enzyme retinaldehyde dehydrogenase Raldh2, resulting in limited activation of the RA signaling pathway in these cells. In contrast, low Cyp26b1 expression in cervical spinal cord progenitor cells allows RA signaling to be readily activated upon RA treatment. The intrinsic heterogeneity and signaling factor regulation among adult SCPCs suggest that different niche factor regimens are required for site-specific mobilization of endogenous SCPCs from distinct spatial regions of the spinal cord for injury repair.

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