Conversion of brain cells may help treat Parkinson's: study

Conversion of brain cells may help treat Parkinson's: study

Scientists have found a potential way to treat Parkinson's by successfully reprogramming cells in the brain and reversing the motor symptoms in a mouse model of the disease.

Researchers from Karolinska Institute in Sweden used astrocytes glial cells, named for their star-shape, which are highly abundant in the brains of mice and humans.

Using a variety of different transcription factors – proteins that can alter the gene expression – the researchers changed astrocytes in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease into functioning dopamine neurons.

This resulted in measurable markers of dopamine signalling in the mouse brain as well as a significant reduction in the symptoms of the disease.

The team also performed experiments on human astrocytes in the laboratory which they were able to convert into functional dopamine neurons, raising the possibility for treatment of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease.

"The key to this discovery lies in the conversion of brain cells into a subset of nerve cells called dopamine neurons," researchers said.

"We think that in the future, it may be possible to deliver genes and small molecules, rather than cells, to replace the dopamine neurons lost in Parkinson's disease" said Professor Ernest Arenas from Karolinska Institutet.

The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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