Recent studies have shown that neuroglial progenitor/stem cells (NSCs) from different brain regions exhibit varying capacities for self-renewal and differentiation. In this study, we used neurofibromatosis-1 (NF1) as a model system to elucidate a novel molecular mechanism underlying brain region-specific NSC functional heterogeneity. We demonstrate that Nf1 loss leads to increased NSC proliferation and gliogenesis in the brainstem, but not in the cortex. Using Nf1 genetically engineered mice and derivative NSC neurosphere cultures, we show that this brain region-specific increase in NSC proliferation and gliogenesis results from selective Akt hyperactivation. The molecular basis for the increased brainstem-specific Akt activation in brainstem NSCs is the consequence of differential rictor expression, leading to region-specific mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)/rictor-mediated Akt phosphorylation and Akt-regulated p27 phosphorylation. Collectively, these findings establish mTOR/rictor-mediated Akt activation as a key driver of NSC proliferation and gliogenesis, and identify a unique mechanism for conferring brain region-specific responses to cancer-causing genetic changes.
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