Simple drug combination creates new neurons from neighboring cells
A simple drug cocktail that converts cells neighboring damaged neurons into functional new neurons could potentially be used to treat stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and brain injuries. A team of researchers at Penn State identified a set of four, or even three, molecules that could convert glial cells--which normally provide support and insulation for neurons--into new neurons. A paper describing the approach appears online in the journal Stem Cell Reports on February 7, 2019.
"The biggest problem for brain repair is that neurons don't regenerate after brain damage, because they don't divide," said Gong Chen, professor of biology and Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Penn State and leader of the research team. "In contrast, glial cells, which gather around damaged brain tissue, can proliferate after brain injury. I believe turning glial cells that are the neighbors of dead neurons into new neurons is the best way to restore lost neuronal functions."
Chen's team previously published research describing a sequence of nine small molecules that could directly convert human glial cells into neurons, but the large number of molecules and the specific sequence required for reprogramming the glial cells complicated the transition to a clinical treatment. In the current study, the team tested various numbers and combinations of molecules to identify a streamlined approach to the reprogramming of astrocytes, a type of glial cells, into neurons.