Scientists have discovered a way to create new neurons in the adult brain
By: April Carson
By introducing a set of three proteins into the adult brain, scientists have managed to generate new neurons that enable learning and memory formation. This breakthrough provides hope for treatments of neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline. It is hoped that this discovery will lead to more effective strategies in slowing down or reversing some effects of these conditions.
Neural stem cells (NSCs) are specialized cells that have the remarkable ability to create copies of themselves continuously while also producing differentiated cells with specific functions. During embryonic development, NSCs contribute to constructing the brain by generating all the cells of the central nervous system, including neurons. Until recently, scientists thought that the adult brain could not generate new neurons. However, a recent discovery has shown that new neurons can be generated even in adults. This process is known as neurogenesis and involves NSCs producing new neurons that are integrated into existing neural networks.
The ability to generate new neurons diminishes as one gets older. Although the brain is fully formed, certain brain regions still contain NSCs even in adulthood, which is known as adult neurogenesis. This biological process is crucial for various functions, including learning and memory. As a person ages, the stem cells in their brain become less active, leading to a decrease in the growth of new neurons.
However, researchers at the UNIGE and UNIL have discovered a metabolic process that can awaken these dormant stem cells and make them active again. Jean-Claude Martinou and Marlen Knobloch have found a way to help adult NSCs become more effective in generating new neurons. This process involves manipulating certain metabolic pathways to stimulate the stem cells and create new neurons. This discovery has major implications for our understanding of how the adult brain can be maintained and even regenerated.
Francesco Petrelli, a research fellow at UNIL and co-first author with Valentina Scandella, explains that the level of activation of adult NSCs is regulated by mitochondria, which are organelles that produce energy within cells. Eleven years ago, Professor Martinou's group discovered the mitochondrial pyruvate transporter (MPC), a protein complex that regulates the metabolic options of cells. By understanding the metabolic pathways that differentiate active cells from dormant cells, scientists can modify the mitochondrial metabolism of dormant cells to activate them.
Using this knowledge, the team was able to activate dormant adult NSCs in the hippocampus of mouse brains. As a result, these cells began forming new neurons and even regenerated axons and dendrites, indicating that they had fully matured. This discovery provides a way forward for scientists looking to repair damaged brain tissue and increase neuron production in the adult brain. It could also improve treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, spinal cord injury, and other neurological conditions.
By using chemical inhibitors or mutant mice for the Mpc1 gene, biologists have inhibited MPC activity. As a result, they were able to activate dormant NSCs and generate new neurons in the brains of adult and aged mice through these genetic and pharmacological methods. According to Professor Knobloch, one of the authors of the study, our work demonstrates that redirecting metabolic pathways can have a direct impact on the activity of adult NSCs and the volume of newly produced neurons. According to co-lead author Jean-Claude Martinou, this discovery can enhance our knowledge about how cell metabolism manages neurogenesis.
In the future, these findings may offer possible remedies for disorders like depression or neurodegenerative ailments. The team believes that understanding how to modulate the activity of NSCs and activate neurogenesis could help develop effective therapies for these conditions. This new research is a significant step toward understanding the mechanisms of regeneration in the adult brain. It provides an innovative approach to manipulating gene expression and metabolism to generate new neurons, which could potentially be used to treat a variety of diseases.
Thus, this breakthrough has the potential to revolutionize how we look at and treat neurological disorders in the future. It is an exciting time for neuroscience and neurology, as we are rapidly discovering new possibilities to treat diseases. With advances in cellular and molecular biology, scientists can target specific areas of the brain with remarkable precision. Ultimately, this research could lead to improved therapies for a wide range of neurological conditions. This study was published in Nature Neuroscience.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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