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Scientists recreate brain cells from skin cells to study schizophrenia safely
Date:4/13/2011

A team of scientists at Penn State University, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and other institutions have developed a method for recreating a schizophrenic patient's own brain cells, which then can be studied safely and effectively in a Petri dish. The method brings researchers a step closer to understanding the biological underpinnings of schizophrenia. The method also is expected to be used to study other mysterious diseases such as autism and bipolar disorder, and the researchers hope that it will open the door to personalized medicine -- customized treatments for individual sufferers of a disease based on genetic and cellular information. The study will be published in a future edition of the journal Nature and will be posted on the journal's advance online website on 13 April 2011.

Gong Chen, an associate professor of biology at Penn State and one of the study's authors, explained that the team first took samples of skin cells from schizophrenic patients. Then, using molecular-biology techniques, they reprogrammed these original skin cells to become unspecialized or undifferentiated stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). "A pluripotent stem cell is a kind of blank slate," Chen explained. "During development, such stem cells differentiate into many diverse, specialized cell types, such as a muscle cell, a brain cell, or a blood cell."

After generating iPSCs from skin cells, the authors cultured them to become brain cells, or neurons. They then compared the neurons derived from schizophrenic patients to the neurons created from the iPSCs of healthy individuals. They found that the neurons generated from schizophrenic patients were, in fact, distinct: compared with healthy neurons, they made fewer connections with each other. Kristen Brennand, a Salk researcher and one of the study's authors, then administered a number of frequently prescribed antipsychotic medications to test the drugs' ability to imp
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Contact: Barbara Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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