The concept of the immutability of the nervous tissue has recently been replaced with the new idea that a continuous neurogenic turnover does occur in some limited areas of the central nervous system (CNS). At least two neurogenic regions of the adult mammalian CNS are involved in this process: the subventricular zone of the forebrain and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, which are considered to be a reservoir of new neural cells. Neural stem cells (NSCs) are multipotential progenitors that have self-renewal capability. While in vivo endogenous NSCs seem able to produce almost exclusively neurons, a single NSC in vitro is competent to generate neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. NSCs lack a specific morphology and unambiguous surface markers that could allow their identification. For this reason, one of the major difficulties in identifying stem cells is that they are defined in terms of their functional capabilities, the determination of which might alter the cells' nature. The purpose of this review is to describe the characteristics of the NSCs of the adult mammalian CNS, their potentiality in terms of proliferation and differentiation capabilities, as well as their stability in long-term culture, all attributes that make them a good tool for tissue replacement therapies.
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