In a study published in STEM CELLS, Italian and Spanish scientists have provided the first evidence to show that meninges, the membrane which envelops the central nervous system, is a potential source of self-renewing stem cells. Whilst studying the use of stem cells for treating spinal cord injuries, the researchers learnt to understand cell activation in central nervous system injuries, enabling research to advance into new treatments for spinal injuries and degenerative brain disorders.

The research was based on spinal cord injuries caused by damages of the spinal cord through trauma instead of disease. Subject to the severity of the spinal cord injury outcomes can vary from pain to full paralysis, incurring high social and medical care costs. Patient recoveries are severely limited due to the spinal cord's inability to regenerate.

Lead authors Dr Ilaria Decimo and Dr Francesco Bifari at the University of Verona stated:

"Our research offers the first evidence that the spinal cord meninges, the system of membranes which cover the surface of the brain and the spinal cord, contains stem cells which are capable of self-renewal and proliferation."

After a spinal injury, meningeal cells increase in number and migrate to form glial scars. According to the researchers this process offers a likely explanation for part of the mechanism of stem cell activation in central nervous system diseases. This mechanism could in turn be used for treatments. During a micro-dissection of spinal cord meninges samples in adult rats, Dr. Decimo's team discovered that meningeal cells contain crucial stem cell properties. These stem cell properties increase after a spinal cord injury.

Dr. Decimo concluded:

"Our research emphasizes the role of meninges cells in the reaction to spinal cord trauma and indicates for the first time that spinal cord meninges harbor stem cells which are activated by injury. Further testing could result in a strategic turnaround for advancing regenerative medicine for treating neurological disorders and spinal cord injuries."

STEM CELLS editor, Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic added:

"This study underlines the importance of endogenous stem cells. Identification of these cells is crucial for understanding the basic mechanisms of cell biology and tissue repair, but also to identify drugs and chemicals which might be used to mobilize meningeal stem cells."

Written by Petra Rattue