The functional significance of adult neural stem and progenitor cells in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory has been well documented. Although adult neural stem and progenitor cells in the subventricular zone are known to migrate to, maintain and reorganize the olfactory bulb, it is less clear whether they are functionally required for other processes. Using a conditional transgenic mouse model, selective ablation of adult neural stem and progenitor cells in the subventricular zone induced a dramatic increase in morbidity and mortality of central nervous system disorders characterized by excitotoxicity-induced cell death accompanied by reactive inflammation, such as 4-aminopyridine-induced epilepsy and ischaemic stroke. To test the role of subventricular zone adult neural stem and progenitor cells in protecting central nervous system tissue from glutamatergic excitotoxicity, neurophysiological recordings of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents from single medium spiny striatal neurons were measured on acute brain slices. Indeed, lipopolysaccharide-stimulated, but not unstimulated, subventricular zone adult neural stem and progenitor cells reverted the increased frequency and duration of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents by secreting the endocannabinod arachidonoyl ethanolamide, a molecule that regulates glutamatergic tone through type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB(1)) binding. In vivo restoration of cannabinoid levels, either by administration of the type 1 cannabinoid receptor agonist HU210 or the inhibitor of the principal catabolic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase, URB597, completely reverted the increased morbidity and mortality of adult neural stem and progenitor cell-ablated mice suffering from epilepsy and ischaemic stroke. Our results provide the first evidence that adult neural stem and progenitor cells located within the subventricular zone exert an 'innate' homeostatic regulatory role by protecting striatal neurons from glutamate-mediated excitotoxicity.
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