Transforming Brain Cells

From the Technology Review: "Support cells in the brain called astroglia can be turned into functioning neurons. ... Researchers found that they could transform the cells into two different classes of neurons, and that the neurons could form connections with one another in a dish. Although the research is at an early stage, the finding suggests that scientists could someday recruit existing cells in the brain to repair the brain and spinal cord after a stroke, injury, or neurodegenerative disease. ... The addition of one specific gene generated excitatory neurons, which promote activity in other cells. By adding a different gene, they generated inhibitory neurons, which dampen cell activity. In principle, [you] could generate other types of neurons if you choose the appropriate factors ... The study adds to growing evidence that certain cell types can be transformed directly into other cell types without first being converted into stem cells. ... one of the next challenges is to determine whether these reprogrammed neurons can survive and function in a living brain. Fortunately, the brain seems to have a ready source of astroglia. When the brain is injured, these cells proliferate, similar to the way the skin repairs itself after a wound. The researchers found they could also derive neurons from injury-induced astroglia taken from the brains of adult mice."

Link: http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/25353/

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