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Inflammation triggers cell fusions that could protect neurons, Stanford research shows
Date:4/20/2008

STANFORD, Calif. - Chronic inflammation triggers bone marrow-derived blood cells to travel to the brain and fuse with a certain type of neuron up to 100 times more frequently than previously believed, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

After the fusion, the blood-cell nuclei begin to express previously silent, neuron-specific genes. The surprise finding in mice suggests that the creation of the fused cells, called heterokaryons, may possibly play a role in protecting neurons against damage and may open new doors to cell-mediated gene therapy.

"This finding was totally unprecedented and unexpected," said senior author Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor and director of the Baxter Laboratory in Genetic Pharmacology. "We're getting hints that this might be biologically important, but we still have a lot to learn." The research, led by Clas Johansson, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in Blau's laboratory, will be published online in Nature Cell Biology on April 20.

The bone marrow-derived cells are known as blood stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells. They can give rise to all the blood and immune cells in the body. Although the progeny of these hematopoietic stem cells have previously been shown to fuse with a variety of other cell types in the body, this fusion occurs so infrequently that it had been thought to have little biological significance.

Purkinje neurons are large cells in a portion of the brain known as the cerebellum, which is involved in balance and motor control. They form junctions between many other neurons, and they do not regenerate. They are the only cell in the brain shown by Blau and others to fuse with these bone marrow-derived cells in mice and humans.

Previous studies investigating this cell fusion in mice relied on the use of lethal doses of radiation to abolish one mouse's hematopoietic system prior to introducing blood stem cells en
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Contact: Mitzi Baker
mabaker@stanford.edu
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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