To confirm the finding, the team engineered the interneurons to be either stimulated or suppressed by light. When stimulated, the cells would indeed activate nearby newborn neurons, the researchers found. They next tried the light-stimulation trick in live mice, and found that when the specialized interneurons were stimulated and gave off more GABA, the mice's newborn neurons survived in greater numbers than otherwise. This was in contrast to the response of the stem cells, which go dormant when they detect GABA.
"This appears to be a very efficient system for tuning the brain's response to its environment," says Song. "When you have a high level of brain activity, you need more newborn neurons, and when you don't have high activity, you don't need newborn neurons, but you need to prepare yourself by keeping the stem cells active. It's all regulated by the same signal."
Song notes that parvalbumin-expressing interneurons have been found by others to behave abnormally in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. "Now we want to see what the role of these interneurons is in the newborn neurons' next steps: migrating to the right place and integrating into the existing circuitry," he says. "That may be the key to their role in disease." The team is also interested in investigating whether the GABA mechanism can be used to help keep transplanted cells alive without affecting other brain processes as a side effect.
|Contact: Shawna Williams|
Johns Hopkins Medicine