MADISON -- Among the many hurdles to be cleared before human embryonic stem cells can achieve their therapeutic potential is determining whether or not transplanted cells can functionally integrate into target organs or tissues.
Writing today (Monday, Nov. 21) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of Wisconsin scientists reports that neurons, forged in the lab from blank slate human embryonic stem cells and implanted into the brains of mice, can successfully fuse with the brain's wiring and both send and receive signals.
Neurons are specialized, impulse conducting cells that are the most elementary functional unit of the central nervous system. The 100 billion or so neurons in the human brain are constantly sending and receiving the signals that govern everything from walking and talking to thinking. The work represents a crucial step toward deploying customized cells to repair damaged or diseased brains, the most complex human organ.
"The big question was can these cells integrate in a functional way," says Jason P. Weick, the lead author of the new study and a staff scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center. "We show for the first time that these transplanted cells can both listen and talk to surrounding neurons of the adult brain."
The Wisconsin team tested the ability of their lab grown neurons to integrate into the brain's circuitry by transplanting the cells into the adult mouse hippocampus, a well-studied region of the brain that plays a key role in processing memory and spatial navigation. The capacity of the cells to integrate was observed in live tissue taken from the animals that received the cell transplants.
Weick and colleagues also reported that the human neurons adopted the rhythmic firing behavior of many brain cells talking to one another in unison. And, perhaps more importantly, that the human cells could modify the way the neural network beh
|Contact: Jason P. Weick |
University of Wisconsin-Madison