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Bone marrow generates new neurons in human brains

A new study strongly suggests that some cells from bone marrow can enter the human brain and generate new neurons and other types of brain cells. If researchers can find a way to control these cells and direct them to damaged areas of the brain, this finding may lead to new treatments for stroke, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders.

"This study shows that some kind of cell in bone marrow, most likely a stem cell, has the capacity to enter the brain and form neurons," says Ẻva Mezey, M.D., Ph.D., from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), who led the study.

Earlier work by Dr. Mezey and others has shown that bone marrow cells can enter the mouse brain and produce new neurons. However, the new study is the first to show that this phenomenon can occur in the human brain. The study was supported in part by the NINDS and appears in the January 20, 2003, online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.* The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the study, Dr. Mezey and colleagues examined brain tissue taken at autopsy from four female patients two adults and two children who had received bone marrow transplants from male donors. The bone marrow transplants had been performed to treat leukemia and other non-neurological diseases, and the patients survived from 1 to 9 months after their transplants. The investigators searched the autopsied brain tissue for male cells, which contain a Y chromosome. The Y chromosomes in these cells served as a useful way of distinguishing donor-derived cells from those of the female transplant recipients. The researchers found cells with Y chromosomes in brain tissue from all four of the patients.

Most of the bone marrow-derived cells in the brain tissue were glia (support cells) and other non-neuronal cells. However, a small
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Contact: Natalie Frazin
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
20-Jan-2003


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