THURSDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- Implanting a type of human brain cell into newborn mice makes them "smarter" as adults, scientists have found -- an achievement experts say could aid in understanding and treating human brain diseases.
It sounds a bit like science fiction, but many studies have looked at the effects of implanting rodent brains with human cells, said Paul Sanberg, a professor of neuroscience at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.
What's new here is that researchers were able to implant mice with human brain cells called glial cells, see those cells mature and act like human ones, and see the effects on the mice's learning, said Sanberg, who was not involved in the research.
"That's exciting," he said. "The cells were still functioning like human cells, and they actually enhanced aspects of learning."
The goal, though, is not to create brainy mice. The hope is to open up new ways to understand human brain diseases and develop therapies for them, said Dr. Steven Goldman, chairman of neurology at the University of Rochester, in New York, and one of the researchers on the study.
Human brains have different types of cells. Neurons are considered the workhorses, sending electrical and chemical signals to each other. Glial cells are seen as "support" cells that help transfer information among neurons.
But the relative size of glial cells in the human brain is bigger compared to non-primate animals. Humans also have more of them, and greater diversity in them, Goldman said. It has been thought that the evolution of glial cells may have been important to allowing humans to become as smart as they are.
The new findings, which appear in the March 7 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell, support that theory.
Sanberg said there has already been a growing appreciation of the importance of glial cells in degenerative brain diseases.
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