New Nerve Cells for the Adult Brain; The Hidden Mind; Special Editions; by Gerd Kempermann and Fred H. Gage; 7 Page(s)
CUT YOUR SKIN, and the wound closes within days. Break a leg, and the fracture will usually mend if the bone is set correctly. Indeed, almost all human tissues can repair themselves to some extent throughout life. Remarkable stem cells account for much of this activity. These versatile cells resemble those of a developing embryo in their ability to multiply almost endlessly and to generate not only carbon copies of themselves but also many different kinds of cells. The versions in bone marrow offer a dramatic example. They can give rise to all the cells in the blood: red ones, platelets and a panoply of white types. Other stem cells yield the various constituents of the skin, the liver or the intestinal lining.
The brain of the adult human can sometimes compensate for damage quite well, by making new connections among surviving nerve cells (neurons). But it cannot repair itself, because it lacks the stem cells that would allow for neuronal regeneration. That, anyway, is what most neurobiologists firmly believed until quite recently.