Naturally produced protein could boost brain repair

January 10, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) have discovered that a protein produced by blood vessels in the brain could be used to help the brain repair itself after injury or disease.

The protein, called Betacellulin (BTC), was found to boost in mice by stimulating the organ’s to multiply and form new nerve cells. The findings, published in the journal PNAS, suggest that BTC could enhance future regenerative therapies for conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and dementia.

Although most nerve cells (neurons) in the adult brain are formed in the womb and soon after birth, new neurons continue to be generated throughout life by stem cells. These neural stem cells are housed in two small ‘niches’ of the brain and supply new neurons to the olfactory bulb, responsible for our sense of smell, and the hippocampus, which is involved in forming memories and learning.

The niches produce a range of signals that control how fast the stem cells divide and the type of cell they become. Stem cells in these areas normally produce neurons, but in response to a brain injury such as stroke they tend to produce more so-called glial cells, leading to the formation of scar tissue.

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge from the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), who led the research, said:

“The stem cell niches in the brain are not fully understood, but it appears that many factors act in concert to control the fate of the stem cells. We believe these factors are finely balanced to control precisely the numbers of new neurons that are made to match demand in a variety of normal circumstances.

“But in trauma or disease, the stem cells either can’t cope with the increased demand, or they prioritise damage control at the expense of long-term repair. We hope that our new findings can add to the arsenal of exciting approaches coming out of stem cell biology that might eventually lead to better treatments for damaged brains.”

The researchers studied the effects of BTC, which is produced by cells in the blood vessels within the stem cell niches, on the rate of neuron formation in mice. They found that BTC signals to both the stem cells and to dividing cells called neuroblasts, triggering their proliferation.

When extra Betacellulin was given to the mice, there was a significant increase in both stem cells and neuroblasts in their brains, leading to the formation of many new neurons. In contrast, when were given an antibody that blocks BTC activity the production of new neurons was suppressed.

As BTC leads to the production of new , rather than glial cells, this could improve the effectiveness of regenerative medicine treatments aimed at repairing damage to the brain.

Professor Jim Smith, Director of the NIMR, said:

“Regenerative medicine has the potential to unlock new treatments for many human diseases that currently have no effective cures. This study is an important step towards our goal of moving beyond the replacement of tissues and organs to the exploitation of the intrinsic repair and regenerative potential of the human body.”

This work is still far from the clinic as further experiments are needed to explain the normal role of BTC in the brain and to explore in animals the effects of BTC on damaged brains alone, or together with transplanted neural stem cells.

Explore further: Brain structure adapts to environmental change

More information: The research, "Betacellulin promotes cell proliferation in the neural stem cell niche and stimulates neurogenesis" by Maria-Victoria Gomez-Gaviro et al, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Stories

Brain structure adapts to environmental change

June 13, 2011
Scientists have known for years that neurogenesis takes place throughout adulthood in the hippocampus of the mammalian brain. Now Columbia researchers have found that under stressful conditions, neural stem cells in the adult ...

Recommended for you

Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

November 20, 2017
Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, ...

MRI uncovers brain abnormalities in people with depression and anxiety

November 20, 2017
Researchers using MRI have discovered a common pattern of structural abnormalities in the brains of people with depression and social anxiety, according to a study presented being next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological ...

Deletion of a stem cell factor promotes TBI recovery in mice

November 20, 2017
UT Southwestern molecular biologists today report the unexpected finding that selectively deleting a stem cell transcription factor in adult mice promotes recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Brain cell advance brings hope for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

November 20, 2017
Scientists have developed a new system to study Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the laboratory, paving the way for research to find treatments for the fatal brain disorder.

Neuroscience research provides evidence the brain is strobing, not constant

November 17, 2017
It's not just our eyes that play tricks on us, but our ears. That's the finding of a landmark Australian-Italian collaboration that provides new evidence that oscillations, or 'strobes', are a general feature of human perception.

Brain activity buffers against worsening anxiety

November 17, 2017
Boosting activity in brain areas related to thinking and problem-solving may also buffer against worsening anxiety, suggests a new study by Duke University researchers.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Hospital Management
not rated yet Jan 10, 2012
how to produce natural protein in body..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.