- INSERM researchers have succeeded in reprogramming glial cells into neurons
- This represents an important advance since the brain cannot naturally replace lost or damaged neurons.
- However, it will take time for this work to be used to treat patients.
What if we could regenerate lost neurons? It is the immense hope that the work of INSERM researchers who have succeeded in transforming non-neuronal brain cells into new neurons in the laboratory has aroused for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases or stroke. Their study has just been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Neurons are indeed, in the current state of science, impossible to regenerate. Once they are damaged or lost, it is forever. This makes many pathologies of the central nervous system, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy or the aftermath of stroke impossible to cure. The work carried out by researchers from INSERM% and Claude Bernard University in Lyon, even if they are still very far from being able to be used to treat patients, shows that it is possible, on a mouse model, transform glial cells in the brain, those that surround neurons and participate in the control of the chemical and electrical environment by providing them with nutrients and eliminating their waste, in new neurons.
Neurons with properties comparable to those that had been damaged
“During neuronal death, the glial cells present in the direct environment of the damaged neurons react by multiplying without this response solving the problem”, underlines the press release from INSERM. The researchers started from this observation of glial cell proliferation by selecting the genes involved in the genesis of neurons. And by forcing the expression of these genes, they managed to reprogram glial cells into neurons with properties comparable to those that had been damaged by the disease.
An experiment conducted on the neurons involved in epilepsy
The experiment focused on inhibitory neurons whose loss plays a role in the occurrence of epileptic seizures. And electrophysiological analyzes have shown that neurons from reprogrammed glial cells are indeed functional neurons capable of inhibiting neighboring neurons responsible for epileptic seizures.
“These results reveal the therapeutic potential of this cellular reprogramming strategy to combat a pathology such as mesiotemporal epilepsy, a boon in the specific case of this disease for which 30% of patients who are affected are refractory to pharmacological treatments” , underlines the researcher Christophe Heinrich, designer of this study. And this success in an experiment of reprogramming glial cells into neurons could, in the long term, be generalized to other pathologies linked to damage caused to neurons or to their loss.