There's life after radiation for brain cells

August 12, 2013

Scientists have long believed that healthy brain cells, once damaged by radiation designed to kill brain tumors, cannot regenerate. But new Johns Hopkins research in mice suggests that neural stem cells, the body's source of new brain cells, are resistant to radiation, and can be roused from a hibernation-like state to reproduce and generate new cells able to migrate, replace injured cells and potentially restore lost function.

"Despite being hit hard by radiation, it turns out that are like the special forces, on standby waiting to be activated," says Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, M.D., a professor of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of a study described online today in the journal Stem Cells. "Now we might figure out how to unleash the potential of these stem cells to repair human ."

The findings, Quiñones-Hinojosa adds, may have implications not only for brain cancer patients, but also for people with progressive such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease (PD), in which cognitive functions worsen as the brain suffers permanent damage over time.

In Quiñones-Hinojosa's laboratory, the researchers examined the impact of radiation on mouse neural stem cells by testing the rodents' responses to a subsequent brain injury. To do the experiment, the researchers used a device invented and used only at Johns Hopkins that accurately simulates localized radiation used in therapy. Other techniques, the researchers say, use too much radiation to precisely mimic the clinical experience of brain cancer patients.

In the weeks after radiation, the researchers injected the mice with lysolecithin, a substance that caused brain damage by inducing a demyelinating brain lesion, much like that present in MS. They found that neural stem cells within the irradiated subventricular zone of the brain generated new cells, which rushed to the damaged site to rescue newly injured cells. A month later, the new cells had incorporated into the demyelinated area where new myelin, the protein insulation that protects nerves, was being produced.

"These mice have brain damage, but that doesn't mean it's irreparable," Quiñones-Hinojosa says. "This research is like detective work. We're putting a lot of different clues together. This is another tiny piece of the puzzle. The brain has some innate capabilities to regenerate and we hope there is a way to take advantage of them. If we can let loose this potential in humans, we may be able to help them recover from radiation therapy, strokes, brain trauma, you name it."

His findings may not be all good news, however. Neural stem cells have been linked to brain tumor development, Quiñones-Hinojosa cautions. The radiation resistance his experiments uncovered, he says, could explain why glioblastoma, the deadliest and most aggressive form of brain cancer, is so hard to treat with radiation.

Explore further: Researchers use a type of stem cells from human adipose tissue to chase migrating cancer cells

Related Stories

Researchers use a type of stem cells from human adipose tissue to chase migrating cancer cells

March 12, 2013
In laboratory studies, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have found that stem cells from a patient's own fat may have the potential to deliver new treatments directly into the brain after the surgical removal of a glioblastoma, ...

Repeated surgeries appear to extend life of patients with deadliest of brain cancers

November 1, 2012
People who undergo repeated surgeries to remove glioblastomas—the most aggressive and deadliest type of brain tumors—may survive longer than those who have just a one-time operation, new Johns Hopkins research suggests.

Research yields new clues to how brain cancer cells migrate and invade

May 1, 2012
Researchers have discovered that a protein that transports sodium, potassium and chloride may hold clues to how glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest type of brain cancer, moves and invades nearby healthy brain tissue. ...

Protein involved in nerve-cell migration implicated in spread of brain cancer

August 7, 2013
The invasion of brain-tumor cells into surrounding tissue requires the same protein molecule that neurons need to migrate into position as they differentiate and mature, according to new research from the University of Illinois ...

Stem cell treatment may restore cognitive function in patients with brain cancer

July 13, 2011
Stem cell therapy may restore cognition in patients with brain cancer who experience functional learning and memory loss often associated with radiation treatment, according to a laboratory study published in Cancer Research, ...

Tracking nanodiamond-tagged stem cells

August 5, 2013
A method that is used to track the fate of a single stem cell within mouse lung tissue is reported in a study published online this week in Nature Nanotechnology. The method may offer insights into the factors that determine ...

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.