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Reprogramming brain cells important first step for new Parkinson's therapy
Date:12/13/2011

PHILADELPHIA - In efforts to find new treatments for Parkinson's Disease (PD), researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have directly reprogrammed astrocytes, the most plentiful cell type in the central nervous system, into dopamine-producing neurons. PD is marked by the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain. Dopamine is a brain chemical important in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, sleep, mood, attention, and memory and learning.

"These cells are potentially useful in cell-replacement therapies for Parkinson's or in modeling the disease in the lab," says senior author John Gearhart, PhD, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM) at Penn. The team reports their findings in PLoS One.

"Our study is the first to demonstrate conversion of astrocytes to midbrain dopaminergic neurons, opening the door for novel reprogramming strategies to treat Parkinson's disease," says first author Russell C. Addis, PhD, a senior research investigator with IRM.

A Different Approach

Parkinson's affects different areas of the brain but primarily attacks the dopamine-producing section called the substantial nigra. Cells in this region send dopamine to another region called the striatum, where it is used to regulate movement. The chemical or genetic triggers that kill dopamine neurons over time is at the heart of understanding the progressive loss of these specialized cells.

As many as one million people in the US live with PD, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Symptoms include tremors, slowness of movements, limb stiffness, and difficulties with gait and balance.

Limited success in clinical trials over the last 15 years in transplanting fetal stem cells into the brains of Parkinson's disease patients has spurred researchers to look for new treatments. Using PET scans, investigators have been able to see that transplant
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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