A study of the salamander brain has led researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet to discover a hitherto unknown function of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In an article published in the prestigious scientific journal Cell Stem Cell they show how in acting as a kind of switch for stem cells, dopamine controls the formation of new neurons in the adult brain. Their findings may one day contribute to new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's.
The study was conducted using salamanders which unlike mammals recover fully from a Parkinson's-like condition within a four week period. Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterised by the death of dopamine-producing cells in the mid-brain. As the salamander re-builds all lost dopamine-producing neurons, the researchers examined how the salamander brain detects the absence of these cells. This question is a fundamental one since it has not been known what causes the new formation of nerve cells and why the process ceases when the correct number have been made.
What they found out was that the salamander's stem cells are automatically activated when the dopamine concentration drops as a result of the death of dopamine-producing neurons, meaning that the neurotransmitter acts as a constant handbrake on stem cell activity.
"The medicine often given to Parkinson's patients is L-dopa, which is converted into dopamine in the brain," says Dr Andras Simon, who led the study at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. "When the salamanders were treated with L-dopa, the production of new dopamine-producing neurons was almost completely inhibited and the animals were unable to recover. However, the converse also applies. If dopamine signalling is blocked, new neurons are born unnecessarily."
As in mammals, the formation of neurons in the salamander mid-brain is virtually non-existent under normal circumstances. Therefo
|Contact: Katarina Sternudd|