UCI study identifies how new neurons grow in adult brain

Findings have potential implications for the use of stem cells to treat neurological diseases

A UC Irvine study on cell growth in the adult brain may provide important clues to the potential use of stem cells in the treatment of memory-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The study shows for the first time how newborn neurons in the adult brain grow and integrate into the area involved with learning and memory. The findings may prove significant because these new neurons begin in a primitive state similar to stem cells, and understanding how they mature may help stem cell research into neurological diseases.

Study results will appear in the March 12 issue (volume 1000, issues 1-2) of the journal Brain Research, a special commemorative issue in observance of its 1,000th published volume.

While examining how new neural cells mature in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory, Charles E. Ribak, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, found that new neurons in the adult brain grow neural signaling appendages in a similar way to those found in developing brains. “The process begins with undifferentiated cells, which are cells that have no appendages, such as dendrites and axons,” Ribak said. “Because stem cells also are undifferentiated, they may have the potential to grow and mature into new neurons in a similar manner.”

Ribak’s study was done on rats. He and his colleagues studied newborn neurons to determine when synapses form, which is the point when they become a functional part of the brain’s neural circuitry. Matthew J. Korn and Zhiyin Shan of UCI and Andre Obenaus of Loma Linda University assisted in the study, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to research, scholarship and community. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 23,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,300 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.

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