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Protein Key to Stem Cell-Based Nerve Repair

A single protein governs development of visual depth perception

THURSDAY, Nov. 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Research into using stem cells to repair damaged nerves just got a big boost, with scientists pinpointing a protein key to controlling binocular vision -- visual depth perception -- in mammals.

Binocular vision provides humans and other predatory mammals with depth perception. It develops in embryos when some nerve cells (neurons) from the retina grow into the same side of the brain, while other neurons from the same retina grow into the other side of the brain.

Researchers at the Salk Institute found that the proportion of neurons that cross over is determined by a single regulatory protein, Islet-2, which switches on or off other genes that control connections between nerve cells.

The identification of Islet-2 may help scientists find ways to use stem cells to repair damaged nerves.

"If you're going to use stem cells for therapy, you need to know what genes are involved in determining or restricting their fate," research leader Dr. Dennis O'Leary explained in a prepared statement.

The study appears in the Nov. 12 issue of Cell.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has information about research into treatments for spinal cord injury.

SOURCE: Salk Institute, news release, Nov. 12, 2004
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