Neurons created from other brain cells to treat neurodegenerative diseases

October 5, 2012

Reprogramming pericytes as neurons. The blue arrow indicates a pericyte cell during reprogramming. (Credit: Karow et al./Cell Stem Cell, a Cell Press Journal)

Researchers have discovered a way to generate new human neurons from pericyte cells, providing a possible new approach to cell-based therapy of neurodegenerative diseases,  said Benedikt Berninger of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

“The ultimate goal is to induce such conversion within the brain itself to provide a novel strategy for repairing the injured or diseased brain.”

Pericytes keep the blood-brain barrier intact and participate in wound healing in other parts of the body. They are cultured in vitro and reprogrammed into neuronal cells by retrovirus-mediated co-expression of the gene transcription factors Sox2 and Mash1.

The newly converted neurons can produce electrical signals and reach out to other neurons, providing evidence that the converted cells could integrate into neural networks.