Signal transduction pathways involved in the lineage-differentiation of NSCs: Can the knowledge gained from blood be used in the brain?

Debasis Mondal, Leena Pradhan, Vincent F. LaRussa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Neural stem cells (NSC) are capable of differentiating toward neuronal, astrocytic, oligodendrocytic and glial lineages, depending on their spatial location within the central nervous system (CNS). Although, a lot of knowledge has been gained in the understanding of differentiation-specific signaling in hematopoietic (HSC) and mesenchymal (MSC) counterparts, the molecular mechanisms underlying lineage commitment in NSCs are just beginning to be understood. Furthermore, it is not well comprehended as to how the specification of one cell lineage can result in the suppression of parallel pathways in the NSCs. Thus, a thorough understanding of various signal transduction cascades activated via cytokines and growth factors, and the confounding effects of different CNS microenvironments are critically required to determine the full potential of NSCs. Our knowledge on the clonogenic ability, differentiation potential, and the inherent plasticity in both HSCs and MSCs may facilitate the understanding of lineage commitment in the NSCs as well. The information available from the marrow-derived stem cells may be extrapolated toward the similar signaling pathways in the neural precursors. From a number of previous studies, it is apparent that four distinctly different subsets of ligand-receptor superfamilies are involved in determining the fate of NSCs. These include 1) the transforming growth factor type-beta-1 (TGF-β1) and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) superfamily; 2) the platelet-derived and epidermal (PDGF/EGF) growth factors; 3) the interleukin-6, leukemia inhibitory factor, and ciliary neurotrophic factor (IL-6/LIF/CNTF) superfamily; and 4) the EGF-like Notch/Delta group of extracellular ligands. Ligand binding to the cell surface receptor activates the receptor's cytosolic catalytic domain and/or the receptor-associated protein-kinases, which in turn activate intracellular second messengers and different sets of transcription factors. Transcription factor oligomerization, nuclear localization, followed by their recognition of DNA elements, leads to the expression of lineage-specific genes. Association between different groups of transcription factors can also regulate their ability to transcriptionally activate different genes. The limited availability of coactivators and cosuppressors, which can sequester the transcription factor complexes toward or away from a specific gene locus, further adds to the complexity in the cross talk between different signaling cascades. Both concerted actions of temporally regulated signals and convergent effects of different signaling cascades can thus ultimately precipitate the phenotypic changes. It is beginning to be realized that in addition to the cytokines and growth factors, cell-to-cell and cell-to-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions, are also important within the molecular scenario linked to both proliferation and differentiation of the stem cells. The cell surface molecules, which include cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), integrins, selectins, and the immunoglobulins, are well known to regulate HSC and MSC commitment within different tissue microenvironments and may have direct implications in understanding the NSC cell fate determination within different regions of the brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-943
Number of pages19
JournalCancer Investigation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 31 2004


  • Differentiation
  • Lineage commitment
  • Neural stem cells
  • Signal transduction
  • Transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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