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Friday, September 14, 2007

Specialized brain cells survive through special functionality

A U.S. study shows specialized neurons thought to die after directing the connections of other neurons can survive birth and remain functional.

Michael Friedlander and colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham found about 10 percent of such specialized neurons remain active in the adult brain.

The scientists said their finding -- which challenges accepted ideas about the brain's embryonic development -- might lead to new methods of facilitating the restoration of brain functions lost due to accident or disease.

"Since those cells are critical elements that guided the wiring of the brain's cerebral cortex in the first place, maybe we could tap into that ability later on," said Friedlander, chairman of the school's department of neuroscience and the study's senior author.

The finding by Friedlander and Dr. Juan Torres-Reveron at Yale University is reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Microfluidic chambers used to grow neurons:

U.S. scientists say they have developed a method of culturing mammalian neurons in chambers not much larger than the neurons themselves.

The new technology created by University of Illinois researchers extends the lifespan of the neurons at very low densities -- an essential step toward developing a method for studying the growth and behavior of individual brain cells.

"This finding will be very positively greeted by the neuroscience community," said Professor Martha Gillette, the director of the university's cell and developmental biology department. "This is pushing the limits of what you can do with neurons in culture."

The research that also included graduate student Matthew Stewart and Professors Jonathan Sweedler and Ralph Nuzzo is described in the current issue of the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Embryonic stem cell lines aren't all equal

U.S. scientists have discovered significant variations between neurons from two embryonic stem cell lines, suggesting not all such cell lines are equal.

The study -- led by UCLA biologist Yi Sun and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Thomas Sudhof at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center -- compared neurons generated from two National Institutes of Health-approved embryonic stem cell lines. The differences found in the mature, functioning neurons generated from each line implies culture conditions during cell generation -- which have yet to be identified -- can influence the developmental properties of human embryonic stem cells, the researchers said.

Sun, Sudhof and colleagues also developed a new technique for producing functioning neurons from stem cells that they said will be important for creating models of human neurodegenerative diseases.

The research is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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