Neurobiology

CIRM grantees convert skin to nerves, a step toward therapies for neurological disease

Last year a group of CIRM grantees at Stanford University directly converted mouse skin cells into neurons, bypassing the need to first convert those cells into an embryonic-like state. Now they've gone a step farther, pulling off the same feat with human cells. They published the work in the May 26 Nature.

Krista Conger at Stanford University blogged about that work , quoting senior author Marius Wernig:

How a stem cell forms a neuron

CIRM grantees at Sanford-Burnham have published another paper using an embryonic stem cell model to understand one of the earliest steps in human nervous system development. (We've blogged about their work before here.)

Antidepressants rev up neural stem cells

Work with neural stem cells suggests that antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil do their work by encouraging the generation of new brain cells. Happy brain cells, to judge by their effects.

The work was done by British scientists from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry and published April 12 in in Molecular Psychiatry. A Reuters story discusses the role of new brain cells in depression:

Stem cells reveal elusive developmental steps, origins of disease

Our colleagues at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have a post today on their excellent blog about work by CIRM grantee Alexey Turskikh, published in a recent issue of PLoS ONE. The teams work is another example of how embryonic stem cells can help scientists understand early events in development.

Stem cell progress on brain awareness week

This week marks Brain Awareness Week, with events worldwide to bring people up to speed on brain research. I went to the cool search tool on the Dana Foundation web site and found that several CIRM grantees are hosting events this week. That makes sense, given that roughly a quarter of our funding goes to neuronal diseases. (You can see charts of CIRM stem cell research funding allocations here. The charts are slightly out of date - stay tuned for some updates in the next month.)

Protein protects brain from damage, may prevent neurodegenerative diseases

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found a protein that protects the brain from the kind of damage that can lead to Parkinson's disease. This protein, called Nurr1, has a long history in Parkinson's disease research. People who carry a mutation in the gene are prone to developing the disease. The new work explains how the protein prevents Parkinson's disease and could also help researchers find ways of treating of preventing the disease.

iPS Cells Mature into Functional Motor Neurons

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have matured induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into what appear to be normal motor neurons. This work shows that iPS cells can mature into cells that appear similar to those derived from human embryonic stem cells – a finding that has important implications for people hoping to create new therapies based on iPS cells. These cells are created by reprogramming adult cells back into a pluripotent state that resembles embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic Stem Cells Generate Model for ALS

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences have grown embryonic stem cells into the motor neurons and support cells that underlie amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Also known as Lou Gherig's Disease, ALS has no cure and no effective treatment. In this disease, the motor neurons slowly degenerate leaving a person paralyzed. Why the neurons die is not known, however the support cells called astrocytes have long appeared to play a role.

True Location of Brain Stem Cells Discovered

Researchers at UC, Irvine identified the true location of adult stem cells in the brain. Previous studies indicated that in mammals, adult neural stem cells originate in a region of the brain called the subventricular zone. In this study, the team found evidence that stem cells exist only in a region called the ependymal layer, which is adjacent to the subventricular zone. They also coaxed the ependymal stem cells to divide in adult rats displaying Parkinson's Disease-like symptoms.

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