Conversion of brain cells offers hope for Parkinson's patients

April 11, 2017, Karolinska Institutet
Dopamine neurons degenerate and die in the brains of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Credit: iStock

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have made significant progress in the search for new treatments for Parkinson's disease. By manipulating the gene expression of non-neuronal cells in the brain, they were able to produce new dopamine neurons. The study, performed on mice and human cells, is published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.

By reprogramming in the brain the scientists were able to revert motor symptoms in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease and reproduce the cellular function and responses in human brain cells in the laboratory. The key to this discovery lies in the conversion of brain cells into a subset of nerve cells called .

Dopamine neurons degenerate and die in the brains of people suffering from Parkinson's disease. The research team showed that they can convert non-neuronal so called in the brains of mice into new dopamine neurons, in essence, creating new neurons.

The glial cells used in the study were astrocytes, named for their star-shape, which are highly abundant in the brains of mice and humans. Using a variety of different transcription factors – proteins that can alter the – the researchers changed astrocytes in a of Parkinson's disease into functioning dopamine neurons. This resulted in measurable markers of dopamine signaling in the mouse brain as well as a significant reduction in the symptoms of the disease.

The team also performed experiments on human astrocytes in the laboratory which they were able to convert into functional dopamine neurons, raising the possibility for treatment of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease.

An alternative to cell therapy

Cell replacement therapies for neurodegenerative disease have focused on transplantation of the cell types affected by the pathological process.

"We think that in the future, it may be possible to deliver genes and small molecules, rather than cells, to replace the dopamine neurons lost in Parkinson's disease" says Professor Ernest Arenas at Karolinska Institutet's Department of medical biochemistry and biophysics.

Explore further: Scientific discovery may change treatment of Parkinson's disease

More information: Pia Rivetti di Val Cervo et al. Induction of functional dopamine neurons from human astrocytes in vitro and mouse astrocytes in a Parkinson's disease model, Nature Biotechnology (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3835

Related Stories

Scientific discovery may change treatment of Parkinson's disease

March 22, 2017
When monitoring Parkinson's disease, SPECT imaging of the brain is used for acquiring information on the dopamine activity. A new study conducted in Turku, Finland, shows that the dopamine activity observed in SPECT imaging ...

Midbrain study gives boost to Parkinson's research

October 10, 2016
Two research teams at Karolinska Institutet have identified the dopamine-producing cells in the midbrain of mice and humans. They have also developed a method of assessing the quality of in-vitro cultured dopamine-producing ...

Neurotrophic factor GDNF is an important regulator of dopamine neurons in the brain

February 16, 2017
New research results are expanding our understanding of the physiological role of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor GDNF in the function of the brain's dopamine systems. In an article recently published in the ...

Breakthrough in the production of dopamine neurons for Parkinson's disease

October 28, 2016
The first transplantation of stem cells in patients with Parkinson's disease is almost within reach. However, it remains a challenge for researchers to control stem cells accurately in the lab in order to achieve successful ...

An important study for Parkinson's disease: Researchers uncover mechanism regulating dopamine levels in the brain

December 11, 2014
Researchers in Montréal led by Jacques Drouin, D.Sc., uncovered a mechanism regulating dopamine levels in the brain by working on a mouse model of late onset Parkinson's disease. The study, conducted in collaboration with ...

Recommended for you

Protein levels in spinal fluid correlate to posture and gait difficulty in Parkinson's

February 21, 2018
Levels of a protein found in the brain called alpha-synuclein (α-syn) are significantly lower than normal in cerebrospinal fluid collected in Parkinson's disease patients suffering from postural instability and gait difficulty, ...

Calcium may play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease

February 19, 2018
Researchers have found that excess levels of calcium in brain cells may lead to the formation of toxic clusters that are the hallmark of Parkinson's disease.

New method maps the dopamine system in Parkinson's patients

February 14, 2018
With the aid of a PET camera, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have developed a new method for investigating the dopamine system in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease. The method measures ...

Mechanism behind common Parkinson's mutation discovered

February 5, 2018
Northwestern Medicine investigators have discovered how a gene mutation results in buildup of a toxic compound known to cause Parkinson's disease symptoms, defining for the first time the mechanism underlying that aspect ...

Tactic for controlling motor symptoms of advanced Parkinson's disease

January 25, 2018
Standard drug treatment for Parkinson's disease can over time induce motor complications that reduce the effectiveness of restoring mobility. These complications include abnormal involuntary movements known as dyskinesias. ...

A new therapeutic avenue for Parkinson's disease

January 23, 2018
Systemic clearing of senescent astrocytes prevents Parkinson's neuropathology and associated symptoms in a mouse model of sporadic disease, the type implicated in 95% of human cases. Publishing in Cell Reports, researchers ...

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.