It has long been believed that the fully developed mammalian central nervous system (CNS) lacks significant regenerative capacity. Recent advances have revealed, however, that many regions of the adult CNS contain neural progenitors that have the ability to generate new neurons and gila. Although the periventricular area has been identified as a rich source of these progenitors, their precise location in each region and details of their properties in vivo still remain poorly understood. Here we provide evidence that in the adult rat spinal cord, a significant number of neural progenitors are present, not only in the periventricular area, but also in other regions of the parenchyma. These progenitors could proliferate in vitro as neurosphere-like cell aggregates in the presence of growth factors and also gave rise to neurons and glia under appropriate conditions. We further demonstrate that these parenchymal neural progenitors were capable of proliferating in vivo in response to injury. Immunohistochemical studies suggested that proliferative progenitors emerged throughout the gray and white matter in the lesioned spinal cord. Consistently, an increased number of neurosphere-forming cells could be isolated from injured tissues, and they were able to differentiate into neurons in vitro. The widespread occurrence of neural progenitors in the parenchyma expands the possibility of repairing damaged tissue by activating the latent regenerative potential of the adult spinal cord.
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