Human brain cells developed in lab, grow in mice

May 8, 2013

A key type of human brain cell developed in the laboratory grows seamlessly when transplanted into the brains of mice, UC San Francisco researchers have discovered, raising hope that these cells might one day be used to treat people with Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and possibly even Alzheimer's disease, as well as and complications of spinal cord injury such as chronic pain and spasticity.

"We think this one type of cell may be useful in treating several types of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders in a targeted way," said Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of and Stem Cell Research at UCSF and co-lead author on the paper.

The researchers generated and transplanted a type of human nerve-cell progenitor called the medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cell, in experiments described in the May 2 edition of Cell Stem Cell. Development of these human MGE cells within the mimics what occurs in human development, they said.

Kriegstein sees MGE cells as a potential treatment to better control nerve circuits that become overactive in certain neurological disorders. Unlike other that can form many cell types—and that may potentially be less controllable as a consequence—most MGE cells are restricted to producing a type of cell called an interneuron. Interneurons integrate into the brain and provide controlled inhibition to balance the activity of nerve circuits.

To generate MGE cells in the lab, the researchers reliably directed the differentiation of —either human or induced pluripotent stem cells derived from human skin. These two kinds of stem cells have virtually unlimited potential to become any human cell type. When transplanted into a strain of mice that does not reject human tissue, the human MGE-like cells survived within the rodent forebrain, integrated into the brain by forming connections with rodent , and matured into specialized subtypes of interneurons.

These findings may serve as a model to study human diseases in which mature interneurons malfunction, according to Kriegstein. The researchers' methods may also be used to generate vast numbers of human MGE cells in quantities sufficient to launch potential future clinical trials, he said.

Kriegstein was a co-leader of the research, along with Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, PhD, UCSF professor of neurological surgery; John Rubenstein, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of psychiatry; and UCSF postdoctoral scholars Cory Nicholas, PhD, and Jiadong Chen, PhD.

Nicholas utilized key growth factors and other molecules to direct the derivation and maturation of the human MGE-like interneurons. He timed the delivery of these factors to shape their developmental path and confirmed their progression along this path. Chen used electrical measurements to carefully study the physiological and firing properties of the interneurons, as well as the formation of synapses between neurons.

Previously, UCSF researchers led by Allan Basbaum, PhD, chair of anatomy at UCSF, have used mouse MGE cell transplantation into the mouse spinal cord to reduce neuropathic pain, a surprising application outside the brain. Kriegstein, Nicholas and colleagues now are exploring the use of human MGE cells in mouse models of neuropathic pain and spasticity, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

"The hope is that we can deliver these cells to various places within the nervous system that have been overactive and that they will functionally integrate and provide regulated inhibition," Nicholas said.

The researchers also plan to develop MGE cells from induced derived from skin cells of individuals with autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease, in order to investigate how the development and function of interneurons might become abnormal—creating a lab-dish model of disease.

One mystery and challenge to both the clinical and pre-clinical study of human MGE cells is that they develop at a slower, human pace, reflecting an "intrinsic clock". In fast-developing mice, the human MGE-like cells still took seven to nine months to form interneuron subtypes that normally are present near birth.

"If we could accelerate the clock in human cells, then that would be very encouraging for various applications," Kriegstein said.

Explore further: Researchers cure epilepsy in mice using brain cells

Related Stories

Researchers cure epilepsy in mice using brain cells

May 5, 2013
UCSF scientists controlled seizures in epileptic mice with a one-time transplantation of medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells, which inhibit signaling in overactive nerve circuits, into the hippocampus, a brain region associated ...

Chronic pain is relieved by cell transplantation in lab study (Update)

May 23, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Chronic pain, by definition, is difficult to manage, but a new study by UCSF scientists shows how a cell therapy might one day be used not only to quell some common types of persistent and difficult-to-treat ...

Stem cells reverse disease in a model of Parkinson's disease

May 16, 2011
In a new study to be published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers compared the ability of cells derived from different types of human stem cell to reverse disease in a rat model of Parkinson disease and ...

Turning human stem cells into brain cells sheds light on neural development

May 2, 2013
Medical researchers have manipulated human stem cells into producing types of brain cells known to play important roles in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism. The new model cell system ...

Recommended for you

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

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.