Scientists have identified a direct relationship between the reproduction of stem cells and the work of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It controls the unconscious activity of the internal organs, but the scientists did not know about the connection with stem cells. The results of the study are presented in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for unconscious functions such as breathing, providing blood flow, digesting food, and the like. It can affect cells directly and indirectly. In the first case, the ANS transmits special molecules – neurotransmitters – that join the cell membranes and affect its activity. In the second case, the autonomic nervous system may, for example, cause a general state of inflammation in the tissue or alter the blood flow in an organ.
Somatic stem cells, provide for many processes, such as the regeneration of damage and the renewal of the inner layer of the intestine. Scientists suspected that ANS could affect stem cell division and distribution, but they didn’t know exactly how this happens. As part of the new work, American scientists investigated the interaction of stem cells in the intestinal epithelium of mice and the nervous system. It turned out that these cells have receptors for neurotransmitters. In addition, these substances affect the behavior of cells, that is, the ANS acts on them directly.
If you, for example, want to change the regenerative potential of an organ, it is not necessary to stimulate or suppress the activity of certain neurons. You can simply find out which neurotransmitters control the reproduction of cells and bring these substances into the stem cells themselves with the help of targeted drug delivery.
– Megan J. Daley of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (USA)
To confirm the discovery, the authors raised intestinal epithelial cells in the laboratory and exposed them to two neurotransmitters, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. The first is used to activate tissues during heavy loads, and the second signals rest and stimulates digestion. Both of these situations are not suitable for the emergence of new cells, since in the first case it is necessary to expend the energy of other tissues, and in the second case new substances that appear in the process of active digestion can damage new cells. It turned out that intestinal stem cells reacted appropriately, stopping to divide in the presence of any of these neurotransmitters.