Healing potential discovered in everyday human brain cells
Common brain cells may have stem-cell-like potential
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Florida researchers have shown ordinary human brain cells may share the prized qualities of self-renewal and adaptability normally associated with stem cells.
Writing online today (Aug. 16) in Development, scientists from UF's McKnight Brain Institute describe how they used mature human brain cells taken from epilepsy patients to generate new brain tissue in mice.
Furthermore, they can coax these pedestrian human cells to produce large amounts of new brain cells in culture, with one cell theoretically able to begin a cycle of cell division that does not stop until the cells number about 10 to the 16th power.
"We can theoretically take a single brain cell out of a human being and - with just this one cell - generate enough brain cells to replace every cell of the donor's brain and conceivably those of 50 million other people," said Dennis Steindler, Ph.D., executive director of UF's McKnight Brain Institute. "This is a completely new source of human brain cells that can potentially be used to fight Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke and a host of other brain disorders. It would probably only take months to get enough material for a human transplant operation."
The findings document for the first time the ability of common human brain cells to morph into different cell types, a previously unknown characteristic, and are the result of the research team's long-term investigations of adult human stem cells and rodent embryonic stem cells.
Last year, the researchers published details about how they used stem-like brain cells from rodents to duplicate neurogenesis - the process of generating new brain cells - in a dish. The latest findings go further, showing common human brain cells can generate different cell types in cell cultures. In addition, when researchers transplanted these human cells into mice, the cells effectively incorporated in a variety of brain regions.
The human cells were acquired from patients who had undergone surgical treatment for epilepsy and were extracted from support tissue within the gray matter, which is not known for harboring stem cells.
When the donor cells were subjected to a bath of growth agents within cell cultures, a type of cell emerged that behaves like something called a neural progenitor - a cell that is a bit further along in development than a stem cell but shares a stem cell's vaunted ability to divide and transform into different types of brain cells.