Neurons derived from cord blood cells may represent new therapeutic option

July 16, 2012, Salk Institute
This microscope image shows a colony of neurons derived from cord-blood cells using stem cell reprogramming technology. The green and red glow indicates that the cells are producing protein makers found in neurons, evidence that the cord-blood cells did in fact morph into neurons. The blue glow marks the nuclei of the neurons. Credit: Image: Courtesy of Alessandra Giorgetti

For more than 20 years, doctors have been using cells from blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth to treat a variety of illnesses, from cancer and immune disorders to blood and metabolic diseases.

Now, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found a new way-using a single protein, known as a transcription factor-to convert cord blood (CB) cells into neuron-like cells that may prove valuable for the treatment of a wide range of neurological conditions, including stroke, and spinal cord injury.

The researchers demonstrated that these CB cells, which come from the mesoderm, the middle layer of embryonic germ cells, can be switched to ectodermal cells, outer layer cells from which brain, spinal and arise. "This study shows for the first time the direct conversion of a pure population of human cord blood cells into cells of neuronal lineage by the forced expression of a single transcription factor," says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, who led the research team. The study, a collaboration with Fred H. Gage, a professor in Salk's Laboratory of Genetics, and his team, was published on July 16 in the .

"Unlike previous studies, where multiple were necessary to convert into neurons, our method requires only one transcription factor to convert CB cells into functional neurons," says Gage.

The Salk researchers used a retrovirus to introduce Sox2, a transcription factor that acts as a switch in , into CB cells. After culturing them in the laboratory, they discovered colonies of cells expressing neuronal markers. Using a variety of tests, they determined that the new cells, called induced neuronal-like cells (iNC), could transmit , signaling that the cells were mature and functional neurons. Additionally, they transferred the Sox2-infused CB cells to a mouse brain and found that they integrated into the existing mouse neuronal network and were capable of transmitting electrical signals like mature functional neurons.

"We also show that the CB-derived neuronal cells can be expanded under certain conditions and still retain the ability to differentiate into more mature neurons both in the lab and in a mouse brain," says Mo Li, a scientist in Belmonte's lab and a co-first author on the paper with Alessandra Giorgetti, of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, in Barcelona, and Carol Marchetto of Gage's lab. "Although the cells we developed were not for a specific lineage-for example, motor neurons or mid-brain neurons-we hope to generate clinically relevant neuronal subtypes in the future."

Importantly, says Marchetto, "We could use these cells in the future for modeling neurological diseases such as autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease."

Cord , says Giorgetti, offer a number of advantages over other types of stem cells. First, they are not embryonic stem cells and thus they are not controversial. They are more plastic, or flexible, than adult stem cells from sources like bone marrow, which may make them easier to convert into specific cell lineages. The collection of CB cells is safe and painless and poses no risk to the donor, and they can be stored in blood banks for later use.

"If our protocol is developed into a clinical application, it could aid in future cell-replacement therapies," says Li. "You could search all the cord blood banks in the country to look for a suitable match."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Iron triggers dangerous infection in lung transplant patients, study finds

February 21, 2018
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have identified elevated tissue iron as a risk factor for life-threatening fungal infections in lung transplant recipients.

Neuroimaging reveals lasting brain deficits in iron-deficient piglets

February 21, 2018
Iron deficiency in the first four weeks of a piglet's life - equivalent to roughly four months in a human infant - impairs the development of key brain structures, scientists report. The abnormalities remain even after weeks ...

Products derived from plants offer potential as dual-targeting agents for experimental cerebral malaria

February 21, 2018
Malaria, a life-threatening disease usually caused when parasites from the Plasmodium family enter the bloodstream of a person bitten by a parasite-carrying mosquito, is a severe health threat globally, with 200 to 300 million ...

Scientists in Germany improve malaria drug production

February 21, 2018
Scientists in Germany who developed a new way to make a key malaria drug several years ago said Wednesday they have come up with a technique to make the process even more efficient, which should increase global access and ...

Early results from clinical trials not all they're cracked up to be, shows new research

February 21, 2018
When people are suffering from a chronic medical condition, they may place their hope on treatments in clinical trials that show early positive results. However, these results may be grossly exaggerated in more than 1 in ...

Clues to obesity's roots found in brain's quality control process

February 20, 2018
Deep in the middle of our heads lies a tiny nub of nerve cells that play a key role in how hungry we feel, how much we eat, and how much weight we gain.

0 comments

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.