Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Functional nerve cells from skin cells

22.05.2014

A new method of generating mature nerve cells from skin cells could greatly enhance understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, and could accelerate the development of new drugs and stem cell-based regenerative medicine.

The nerve cells generated by this new method show the same functional characteristics as the mature cells found in the body, making them much better models for the study of age-related diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and for the testing of new drugs.


These are mature nerve cells generated from human cells using enhanced transcription factors.

Credit: Fahad Ali

Eventually, the technique could also be used to generate mature nerve cells for transplantation into patients with a range of neurodegenerative diseases.

By studying how nerves form in developing tadpoles, researchers from the University of Cambridge were able to identify ways to speed up the cellular processes by which human nerve cells mature. The findings are reported in the May 27th edition of the journal Development.

Stem cells are our master cells, which can develop into almost any cell type within the body. Within a stem cell, there are mechanisms that tell it when to divide, and when to stop dividing and transform into another cell type, a process known as cell differentiation. Several years ago, researchers determined that a group of proteins known as transcription factors, which are found in many tissues throughout the body, regulate both mechanisms.

More recently, it was found that by adding these proteins to skin cells, they can be reprogrammed to form other cell types, including nerve cells. These cells are known as induced neurons, or iN cells. However, this method generates a low number of cells, and those that are produced are not fully functional, which is a requirement in order to be useful models of disease: for example, cortical neurons for stroke, or motor neurons for motor neuron disease.

In addition, for age-related diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, both of which affect millions worldwide, mature nerve cells which show the same characteristics as those found in the body are crucial in order to enhance understanding of the disease and ultimately determine the best way to treat it.

"When you reprogramme cells, you're essentially converting them from one form to another but often the cells you end up with look like they come from embryos rather than looking and acting like more mature adult cells," said Dr Anna Philpott of the Department of Oncology, who led the research. "In order to increase our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's, we need to be able to work with cells that look and behave like those you would see in older individuals who have developed the disease, so producing more 'adult' cells after reprogramming is really important."

By manipulating the signals which transcription factors send to the cells, Dr Philpott and her collaborators were able to promote cell differentiation and maturation, even in the presence of conflicting signals that were directing the cell to continue dividing.

When cells are dividing, transcription factors are modified by the addition of phosphate molecules, a process known as phosphorylation, but this can limit how well cells can convert to mature nerves. However, by engineering proteins which cannot be modified by phosphate and adding them to human cells, the researchers found they could produce nerve cells that were significantly more mature, and therefore more useful as models for disease such as Alzheimer's.

Additionally, very similar protein control mechanisms are at work to mature important cells in other tissues such as pancreatic islets, the cell type that fails to function effectively in type 2 diabetes. As well as making more mature nerves, Dr Philpott's lab is now using similar methods to improve the function of insulin-producing pancreas cells for future therapeutic applications.

"We've found that not only do you have to think about how you start the process of cell differentiation in stem cells, but you also have to think about what you need to do to make differentiation complete - we can learn a lot from how cells in developing embryos manage this," said Dr Philpott.

###

This research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Rosetrees Trust.

For more information, contact:
Sarah Collins
Office of Communications, University of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0)1223 332300 Mob: +44 (0)7525 337458
sarah.collins@admin.cam.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

The paper, "The phosphorylation status of Ascl1 is a key determinant of neuronal differentiation and maturation in vivo and in vitro." is published in the May 27th edition of the journal Development.

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. http://www.mrc.ac.uk

Sarah Collins | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Alzheimer's Parkinson's diseases drugs nerves neurons proteins skin transcription

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

nachricht Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>