The proneural factor Achaete-scute complex-like 1 (Ascl1/Mash1) acts as a pioneering transcription factor that initializes neuronal reprogramming. It drives neural progenitors and non-neuronal cells to exit the cell cycle, and promotes neuronal differentiation by activating neuronal target genes, even those that are normally repressed. Importantly, force-expression of Ascl1 was shown to drive proliferative reactive astroglia formed during stroke and glioblastoma stem cells towards neuronal differentiation, and this could potentially diminish CNS damage resulting from their proliferation. As a pro-neural factor, Ascl1 also has the general effect of enhancing neurite growth by damaged or surviving neurons. Here, a hypothesis that brain pathologies associated with traumatic/ischemic injury and malignancy could be targeted with pro-neural factors that drives neuronal differentiation is formulated and explored. Although a good number of caveats exist, exogenous over-expression of Ascl1, alone or in combination with other factors, may be worth further consideration as a therapeutic approach in brain injury and cancer.
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