Repair of Brain Injury in Mice by Transplanted Neurons
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
This is an incredible finding with strong clinical implications! There already is evidence that transplanted neurons can survive and grow in the brain. The newly introduced neurons can form synapses, and they sometimes improve function by partially compensating for a damaged brain circuit. What was not known was whether the original damage could be repaired. Now scientists have shown in a well-studied mouse model of the brain that transplanted neurons can replace the damaged neurons, make the appropriate connections, and repair the damage.
The research was done in Germany by scientists at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich in Planegg, the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, the Helmholtz Center Munich, and the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Neuherberg. Neurons in the visual cortex of the adult mouse brain were killed, then immature (embryonic) mouse neurons from the cerebral cortex were transplanted into the damaged area of the adult mouse brain. What the scientists found was remarkable. The transplanted neurons developed into mature cells – the same kind as the killed cells, and the new cells replaced the killed cells to give normal function. The process took several months.
The visual cortex is one of the best studied areas of the mouse brain. The structures and connections of the nerve cells are known. So, the scientists, using sophisticated tools, were able to propose that the transplanted neurons used the same developmental signals that were used by the original cells. The transplanted immature neurons developed the proper structures, targeted the same areas of the brain, and made the same connections throughout the brain as did the original cells. The transplanted cells repaired the damaged circuits and allowed the visual cortex to function normally again.
This basic research in mice has astonishing clinical implications for humans. (I wrote before about how the mouse is a good first model for the human.) Lost or damaged neurons can be replaced with incredible precision. That means there may be a future treatment, maybe even a cure, for all kinds of damage to the brain, including that which occurs from acquired and traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. (Full story)
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