|Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, Ph.D.|
An unexpected finding by a CIRM-funded team at UC San Francisco raises new hope that neurons grown from stem cells could be transplanted into patients’ brains and survive in sufficient numbers to help the patients.
The team worked with a specific type of mouse neuron that helps control the cell-to-cell chatter that goes on constantly in our brains. These cells, called GABA-secreting interneurons, balance the actions of other neurons in the brain. Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia have all been linked to disruptions in this balance. Prior research has shown that implanting new interneurons in some animal models of these diseases can improve symptoms.
Despite evidence that these transplanted interneurons can improve symptoms, researchers had assumed that approach would not be an effective form of therapy. Most in the field had thought that the brain only had room for so many interneurons and transplanted healthy neurons would have to compete with the defective native neurons for space.
What the team found was quite different than expected. No matter how many new interneurons they implanted, the same proportion always survived, suggesting it will be easier than folks thought to get enough nerves to survive to impact patients’ disease. The team, led by Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, published their findings last week in Nature:
A press release from UCSF quotes Alvarez-Buylla:
“[This constant rate of survival] suggests that these cells, which other collaborative studies have shown have great therapeutic promise, can be added to cortex in significant numbers.”
Southwell DG, Paredes MF, Galvao RP, Jones DL, Froemke RC, Sebe JY, Alfaro-Cervello C, Tang Y, Garcia-Verdugo JM, Rubenstein JL, Baraban SC, & Alvarez-Buylla A (2012). Intrinsically determined cell death of developing cortical interneurons. Nature PMID: 23041929