WASHINGTON Nerve cells transplanted into brain-damaged rats helped them to fully recover their ability to learn and remember, probably by promoting nurturing, protective growth factors, according to a new study.
Building on previous investigation of transplants in the nervous system, this critical study confirms that cell transplants can help the brain to heal itself. Ultimately, it may lead to new therapies to help dementia patients. More generally, scientists can now develop and test new ways to help repair an injured nervous system -- whether through new drugs, genetically modified cells, transplanted neural (nerve) and non-neural brain cells, or other means.
The discovery was announced in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association. The findings, according to the authors, confirm the potential of cell grafts to stimulate the release of growth factors for neurons, regenerate or reorganize a part of the brain, and restore cognitive function, in a process called neural plasticity.
This study focused on the hippocampus, considered to be the seat of learning and memory, whose shrinkage in Alzheimer's disease causes steadily worsening symptoms. The study's authors targeted a key player in the hippocampal "learning system," which includes the hippocampus itself, the subiculum (the major output structure connected to the cortex, the self-aware "thinking" part of the brain), and the adjacent entorhinal cortex.
Previously, these scientists had demonstrated that damage to the subiculum in rats led to deterioration of the hippocampus, and problems with learning. The next question was obvious: Could researchers do the opposite, repair the hippocampus and restore the memory functions?
They sought the answer at India's National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences and National Centre for Biological Sciences (Tata Institute for Fundamental Research
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American Psychological Association