A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, recently successful in planting stem cells into monkeys’ brains, has now successfully created nerve cells that could transform into brain cells and repair learning and memory in damaged laboratory mice.
Neuroscience professor Su-Chun Zhang and Yan Liu, a postdoctoral associate at the Waisman Center, contributed to the first study to successfully translate human embryonic stem cells into nerve cells, according to a university news release.
In the study, published in April, researchers damaged the mice’s medial septum, an area of the brain which Zhang said in the release is “fundamental to our ability to learn and remember.”
According to the release, researchers chemically prodded stem cells to turn into a type of nerve cell, either GABA or cholinergic neurons.
Zhang said in the release GABA neurons are associated with disorders such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression and addiction, and cholinergic neurons are involved in Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome.
After the stem cells were transplanted into the hippocampus, an area of the brain which is associated with forming memories and connects to the medial septum, they specialized and turned into the appropriate cells for the hippocampus.
The transplant repaired the mice’s ability to learn, the release said, including remembering how to find a hidden platform in a pool during a lab test.
He added the new study is more likely to assist drug screening technologies and research than immediately benefit research on psychiatric disorders, because “for many psychiatric disorders, you don’t know which part of the brain has gone wrong.”