Being able to study the function -- and dysfunction -- of human glial cells in rodent brains could give researchers insight into many diseases, Sanberg and Goldman said.
For the study, Goldman's team implanted human glial stem cells into the brains of newborn mice. Stem cells are primitive cells that give rise to mature, specialized cells.
The researchers found that over time, the human glial stem cells matured and replaced the mouse glial cells -- in essence, "taking over their brains," Goldman said.
His team then used mouse-appropriate learning tests -- like the classic escape-from-the-maze challenge -- to compare the animals' functioning with that of mice with no human glial cells.
"We thought these mice should be smarter. They should be able to learn faster," Goldman said. "And that's what we found."
"It's a remarkable finding," said James McGaugh, a research professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine.
The results "elevate the role" of glial cells in human brain functioning, said McGaugh, who was not involved in the research. As for human health and disease, he added, "I don't see any immediate implications. But clearly these are exciting findings that warrant further investigation."
Goldman and his colleagues are already using this line of research to study human disease. In a study published last month, they reported that they have been able to take stem cells from the skin of patients with certain brain diseases and use them to generate glial stem cells. The cells can be implanted into mice to gain a better understanding of those disorders, and to test new therapies, Goldman said.
Right now, the researchers are experimenting with cells taken from patients with schizophreni
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