Neuroscientists at the Université Libre De Bruxelles (ULB) in Belgium have taken a very important step in cell therapy for diseases of the brain. This team generated cortical neurons from embryonic stem cells, which they then used to treat adult with brain problems. This research was recently published in the journal Neuron.
The ULB team was led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen, Kimmo Michelsen and Sandra Acosta (ULB Neuroscience Institute, in collaboration with the laboratory of Afsaneh Gaillard (INSERM/U. Poitiers, France). These results open new perspectives for the repair of damaged cells in the brain and replacing damage neurons.
The cerebral cortex is definitely the most complex and essential structure of our brain. The nerve cells or neurons that compose the cerebral cortex are the basic building blocks that help it do every job that it does. The loss of loss of cortical neurons is the cause of many neurological diseases as a result of stroke, Alzheimer disease, or physical trauma to the brain can seriously compromise brain function.
Previously, these same ULB researchers discovered how to generate cortical neurons in the laboratory cortical neurons from embryonic stem cells. Despite the triumph of these findings, it was completely unclear whether these findings could be translated into a living creature.
Now, the ULB team has successfully tested the use of their laboratory-generated cortical neurons in a living animal. In this study, Vanderhaeghen and others transplanted cortical pyramidal neurons made from embryonic stem cells into the brains of adult mice who had undergone chemically induced brain damage. This experiment cause rather massive neuronal losses in the visual cortex.
Remarkably, the implanted neurons integrated effectively into the brain after injury, but most importantly they could connect with the host brain, and some of them even responded to visual stimuli, like the visual cortex.
Integration only occurred, if the types of implanted neurons were matched to the lesioned area. In other words, since visual cortex neurons were lost, only the implantation of other cortical neurons allowed the cells to properly engraft into the visual cortex. However the grafted neurons displayed long-range patterns of connectivity with the host neurons.
This remains an experimental approach that has, to date, only been successfully performed with laboratory mice. A good deal more much research is required before any clinical application in humans will come to the clinic. Regardless, the success of these experiments combining cell engineering to generate nerve cells in a controlled and unlimited fashion, together with transplantation in to damaged brain, opens new avenues to repair the brain following damage or degeneration, such as following stroke or brain trauma.