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Scar Tissue From TBI Can Be Converted To New Functional Brain Cells

A research breakthrough in therapy to restore functional brain cells after TBI was just reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell on December 19, 2013. The discovery was announced by biologist Gong Cheng and his colleagues at Penn State University. Dr. Cheng was aware that after TBI glial cells rush to the area to clean up debris and protect vulnerable brain cells from infection. Unfortunately the glial cells form a scar which obstructs the growth of new neurons to replace the ones that died. Dr. Cheng likened it to fire, police, and ambulance personnel helping out the scene of an accident, but then getting stuck and blocking restoration of normal traffic. The ingenuous solution that Dr. Cheng’s team tested out whether they could get the glial scar tissue to convert to new brain cells by exposing them to a nerve growth factor, a protein called NeuroD1. The experiment involved causing TBI in adult mice, waiting for glial scar formation, and then using a retrovirus as a vehicle to safely carry NeuroD1 to the glial scar.

Remarkably just one week after inserting NeuroD1 into the glial scar tissue some of the glial cells (in particular the star-shaped astroglial cells and NG2 glial cells) were reprogrammed to convert into new brain cells. They then tried the same experiment on cultured human glial cells and got the same result. They found that the newly converted rodent neurons and human neurons were both capable of releasing and responding to neurotransmitters. Chen said “Our dream is to develop this in vivo conversion method into a useful therapy to treat people suffering from neural injury or neurological disorders.”