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Scientists report successfully Implanting brain cells in mice

Aug. 4, 2014
Courtesy of the University of Luxembourg 
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists say they have suc­cess­fully im­planted brain cells in­to mice, rais­ing hope for fu­ture ther­a­pies that would re­place cells in pa­tients with Parkin­son’s dis­ease, for ex­am­ple.

The re­search­ers at the Uni­vers­ity of Lux­em­bourg re­ported that they im­planted neu­rons, brain cells that car­ry nerve im­pulses. These cells were “re­pro­grammed” from what were orig­i­nally the mice’s own skin cells.

Part of a brain slice in which a "trans­planted in­duced neu­ral stem cell" is in­te­grat­ed in the net­work of the brain (blue) to de­vel­op in­to a neu­ron. (© LCSB 2014)


The im­plants were “suc­cess­ful, be­cause last­ingly sta­ble,” the sci­en­tists re­ported, pub­lish­ing their find­ings in the cur­rent is­sue of the jour­nal Stem Cell Re­ports.

“Suc­cesses in hu­man ther­a­py are still a long way off, but I am sure suc­cess­ful cell re­placement ther­a­pies will ex­ist in fu­ture. Our re­search re­sults have tak­en us a step fur­ther in this di­rec­tion,” said study lead­er Jens Schwam­born, who heads a group of 15 sci­en­tists at the Lux­em­bourg Cen­tre for Sys­tems Bi­o­med­i­cine.

The re­search­ers’ tech­nique of pro­duc­ing neu­rons, or more spe­cif­ic­ally, what they call in­duced neu­ronal stem cells, in a lab dish con­sid­erably im­proves the com­pat­ibil­ity of the im­planted cells, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. They added that the treated mice showed no ill ef­fects even six months af­ter im­planta­t­ion in­to im­por­tant brain re­gions known as the hip­po­cam­pus and cor­tex, brain struc­tures con­sid­ered im­por­tant for mem­o­ry and de­ci­sion­mak­ing. 

The im­planted neu­rons were fully in­te­grat­ed in­to the com­plex net­work of the brain, the sci­en­tists said, showed nor­mal ac­ti­vity and were con­nect­ed to the orig­i­nal brain cells via newly formed synapses, the nor­mal com­mu­nica­t­ion points be­tween nerve cells.

“We will now be look­ing spe­cif­ic­ally at the type of neu­rons that die off in the brain of Parkin­son’s pa­tients – namely the dopamine-pro­duc­ing neu­rons,” Schwam­born said. Dopamine is a neu­ro­trans­mitter, or in­forma­t­ion-car­rying com­pound in the brain. In the fu­ture, im­planted neu­rons could pro­duce the lack­ing dopamine di­rectly in the pa­tien­t’s brain and trans­port it to the ap­pro­pri­ate sites, he added, per­haps yield­ing a so-far elu­sive cure. The first tri­als in mice are in prog­ress.


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Scientists say they have successfully implanted brain cells into mice, raising hope for future therapies that would replace cells in patients with Parkinson’s disease, for example. The researchers at the University of Luxembourg reported that they grafted neurons, brain cells that carry nerve impulses and that were “reprogrammed” from what were originally the mice’s own skin cells. The implants were “successful, because lastingly stable,” the scientists reported, publishing their findings in the current issue of the journal Stem Cell Reports. “Successes in human therapy are still a long way off, but I am sure successful cell replacement therapies will exist in future. Our research results have taken us a step further in this direction,” said study leader Jens Schwamborn, who heads a group of 15 scientists at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine. The researchers’ technique of producing neurons, or more specifically, what they call induced neuronal stem cells, in a petri dish considerably improves the compatibility of the implanted cells, the investigators said. They added that the treated mice showed no ill effects even six months after implantation into important brain regions known as the hippocampus and cortex, brain structures considered important for memory and decisionmaking. The implanted neurons were fully integrated into the complex network of the brain, the scientists said, showed normal activity and were connected to the original brain cells via newly formed synapses, the normal communication points between nerve cells. “We will now be looking specifically at the type of neurons that die off in the brain of Parkinson’s patients – namely the dopamine-producing neurons,” Schwamborn said. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or information-carrying compound in the brain. In the future, implanted neurons could produce the lacking dopamine directly in the patient’s brain and transport it to the appropriate sites, he added, perhaps yielding a so-far elusive cure. The first trials in mice are in progress.