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Turning human stem cells into brain cells sheds light on neural development
Date:5/2/2013

Medical researchers have manipulated human stem cells into producing types of brain cells known to play important roles in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism. The new model cell system allows neuroscientists to investigate normal brain development, as well as to identify specific disruptions in biological signals that may contribute to neuropsychiatric diseases.

Scientists from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research led a study team that described their research in the journal Cell Stem Cell, published online today.

The research harnesses human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), which differentiate into a broad range of different cell types. In the current study, the scientists directed the stem cells into becoming cortical interneuronsa class of brain cells that, by releasing the neurotransmitter GABA, controls electrical firing in brain circuits.

"Interneurons act like an orchestra conductor, directing other excitatory brain cells to fire in synchrony," said study co-leader Stewart A. Anderson, M.D., a research psychiatrist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "However, when interneurons malfunction, the synchrony is disrupted, and seizures or mental disorders can result."

Anderson and study co-leader Lorenz Studer, M.D., of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at Sloan-Kettering, derived interneurons in a laboratory model that simulates how neurons normally develop in the human forebrain.

"Unlike, say, liver diseases, in which researchers can biopsy a section of a patient's liver, neuroscientists cannot biopsy a living patient's brain tissue," said Anderson. Hence it is important to produce a cell culture model of brain tissue for studying neurological diseases. Significantly, the human-derived cells in the current study also "wire up" in circuits with other types of brain cells taken from mice, when cultured togeth
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Contact: John Ascenzi
Ascenzi@email.chop.edu
267-426-6055
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Source:Eurekalert

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