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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Mar 2;101(9):3202-7. Epub 2004 Feb 18.

Mitotic and neurogenic effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on human neural stem cell cultures derived from the fetal cortex.

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Department of Anatomy and the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705-2280, USA.


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a neurosteroid with potential effects on neurogenesis and neuronal survival in humans. However, most studies on DHEA have been performed in rodents, and there is little direct evidence for biological effects on the human nervous system. Furthermore, the mechanism of its action is unknown. Here, we show that DHEA significantly increased the growth rates of human neural stem cells derived from the fetal cortex and grown with both epidermal growth factor (EGF) and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). However, it had no effect on cultures grown in either factor alone, suggesting a specific action on the EGF/LIF-responsive cell. Precursors of DHEA such as pregnenolone or six of its major metabolites, had no significant effect on proliferation rates. DHEA did not alter the small number (<3%) of newly formed neuroblasts or the large number (>95%) of nestin-positive precursors. However, the number of glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive cells, its mRNA, and protein were significantly increased by DHEA. We found both N-methyl-d-aspartate and sigma 1 antagonists, but not GABA antagonists, could completely eliminate the effects of DHEA on stem cell proliferation. Finally we asked whether the EGF/LIF/DHEA-responsive stem cells had an increased potential for neurogenesis and found a 29% increase in neuronal production when compared to cultures grown in EGF/LIF alone. Together these data suggest that DHEA is involved in the maintenance and division of human neural stem cells. Given the wide availability of this neurosteroid, this finding has important implications for future use.

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