Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center have identified and isolated a stem cell population capable of skull formation and craniofacial repair in mice, which could be an important step toward using stem cells for bone reconstruction in the face and head.
The goal of the research is to better understand and find stem cell therapy for craniosynostosis, a skull deformity in infants that often leads to developmental delays and life-threatening elevated pressure in the brain.
The research focused on the function of the Axin2 gene and a mutation that causes craniosynostosis in mice. Because of a unique expression pattern of the Axin2 gene in the skull, the lab began investigating the activity of Axin2-expressing cells and their role in bone formation, repair, and regeneration.
Stem cells that are central to skull formation make up about 1% of Axin2 cell populations. Also, this population of stem cells is unique to bones of the head, while other distinct stem cells are responsible for the formation of long bones in the legs and other parts of the body.
The researchers say that the lab tests used to uncover these skeletal stem cells might also be useful to find bone diseases caused by stem cell abnormalities. Overall, tissue engineering is being used to invent ways to replace craniofacial bones damaged by congenital disease, trauma, or cancer surgery.
The study, “Stem Cells of the Suture Mesenchyme in Craniofacial Bone Development, Repair and Regeneration,” was led by Takamitsu Maruyama, PhD, of the school of medicine and dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. It was published by Nature Communications.