Converting Supporting Brain Cells into New Neurons

Spurring the brain to produce new neurons more rapidly than it ordinarily does may be a useful form of therapy for a range of conditions - and also quite possibly something you'd want turned on as a matter of course, if it manifests the same sort of benefits to cognitive health as are produced by drugs that induce greater neural plasticity.

Here, researchers note an alternative to manipulating stem cell populations into building new neurons - instead work to convert some of the supporting cells in the brain into neurons:

"This work aims at converting cells that are present throughout the brain but themselves are not nerve cells into neurons. The ultimate goal we have in mind is that this may one day enable us to induce such conversion within the brain itself and thus provide a novel strategy for repairing the injured or diseased brain."

The cells that made the leap from one identity to another are known as pericytes. Those cells, found in close association with the blood vessels, are important for keeping the blood-brain barrier intact and have been shown to participate in wound healing in other parts of the body. ... Further testing showed that those newly converted neurons could produce electrical signals and reach out to other neurons, providing evidence that the converted cells could integrate into neural networks.

"While much needs to be learnt about adapting a direct neuronal reprogramming strategy to meaningful repair in vivo, our data provide strong support for the notion that neuronal reprogramming of cells of pericytic origin within the damaged brain may become a viable approach to replace degenerated neurons."

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/cp-nhn092812.php

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