Presence of neural stem cells in adult mammalian brains, including human, has been clearly demonstrated by several studies. The functional significance of adult neurogenesis is slowly emerging as new data indicate the sensitivity of this event to several “every day” external stimuli such as physical activity, learning, enriched environment, aging, stress and drugs. In addition, neurogenesis appears to be instrumental for task performance involving complex cognitive functions.
Despite the growing body of evidence on the functional significance of NSC and despite the bulk of data concerning the molecular and cellular properties of NSCs and their niches, several critical questions are still open.
In this work we review the literature describing i) old and new sites where NSC niche have been found in the CNS; ii) the intrinsic factors regulating the NSC potential; iii) the extrinsic factors that form the niche microenvironment. Moreover, we analyse NSC niche activation in iv) physiological and v) pathological conditions.
Given the not static nature of NSCs that continuously change phenotype in response to environmental clues, a unique “identity card” for NSC identification is still lacking. Moreover, the multiple location of NSC niches that increase in diseases, leaves open the question of whether and how these structures communicate throughout long distance. We propose a model where all the NSC niches in the CNS may be connected in a functional network using the threads of the meningeal net as tracks.