An IRCM breakthrough in stem cell research

Michel Cayouette
Dr. Michel Cayouette

Dr. Michel Cayouette, Director of the Cellular Neurobiology research unit at the IRCM, and his team published a scientific breakthrough in stem cell research in The Journal of Neuroscience. Amel Kechad, former student in the laboratory, and Christine Jolicoeur, research assistant, are co-first authors of the article, which was also signed by Adele Tufford and Pierre Mattar, both members of the same research unit.

The researchers study neural stem cells, which are self-renewing cells that generate the different cell types found in the nervous system. These stem cells provide a promising new avenue for replacing lost cells after injury, stroke or neurodegenerative diseases.

“Before stem cells can be used in a clinical setting, we need to better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling them,” explains Dr. Cayouette. “We are examining how they choose to become a particular cell type over another during normal development. This knowledge could then be applied to generate the cell type clinicians are interested in for a particular condition.”

Dr. Cayouette’s research focuses on the retina, where stem cells hold great potential for replacing photoreceptors, the light-sensing units of the retina, that are lost in various retinal degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

“Our work published this week identifies a new mechanism that allows retinal stem cells to give rise to two different neuronal cell types when they divide,” adds Dr. Cayouette. “We found that a protein called Numb is asymmetrically inherited by the daughter cells of retinal stem cells, thereby creating asymmetry in neuronal identities: one cell becomes a photoreceptor, whereas the other becomes a different cell type.”

These results identify a key mechanism by which retinal stem cells can produce the vast array of cell types that compose the retina, providing an essential first step towards using stem cells to replace damaged photoreceptors.

This project was published in collaboration with Dr. William Harris’s team at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The research was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Foundation Fighting Blindness – Canada. For more information on this discovery, refer to the Article summary published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Source of text and image: Institut de Recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)

Original Research Article: Journal of Neuroscience