Cell Conversion

Astrocytes, non-neuronal brain cells, can be converted into nerve cells.
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2014

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas have found a way to convert brain cells into nerve cells.

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They’ve successfully replenished lost cells in living mammals’ brains and spinal cords without stem cell transplantation by turning astrocytes (non-neuronal brain cells) in mice into neurons.

“Our earlier work was the first to clearly show in vivo (in a living animal) that mature astrocytes can be reprogrammed to become functional neurons without the need of cell transplantation. The current study did something similar in the spine, turning scar-forming astrocytes into progenitor cells called neuroblasts that regenerated into neurons,” says Chun-Li Shang, PhD, assistant professor of molecular biology at UT Southwestern and senior author of both studies in a news release.

When injured, astrocytes contribute to scar formation, which blocks neural paths, making them a good candidate for cell conversion. The scientists do this by first introducing the cells to a biological substance that reverts astrocytes to an earlier, neuroblast stage. Then, valporic acid (VPA) — a medication that has been used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines — is given to the mice. VPA helps mature the new neuroblasts into neurons.

The current study showed success in neuron creation in the spinal cords of adult mice, although there are still improvements to be made.

“Spinal-cord injuries can lead to an irreversible loss of neurons, and along with scarring, can ultimately lead to impaired motor and sensory functions,” a UT Southwestern new release reports. “Scientists are hopeful that regenerating cells can be an avenue to repair damage.”

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