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UCLA scientists produce functioning neurons from human embryonic stem cells

Scientists with the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Medicine at UCLA were able to produce from human embryonic stem cells a highly pure, large quantity of functioning neurons that will allow them to create models of and study diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons, prefrontal dementia and schizophrenia.

Researchers previously had been able to produce neurons - the impulse-conducting cells in the brain and spinal cord - from human embryonic stem cells. However, the percentage of neurons in the cell culture was not high and the neurons were difficult to isolate from the other cells.

UCLAs Yi Sun, an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Thomas Sdhof at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were able to produce 70 to 80 percent of neurons in cell culture. Sun and Sdhof also were able to isolate the neurons and determine that they had a functional synaptic network, which the neurons use to communicate. Because they were functional, the neurons can be used to create a variety of human neurological disease models.

The study results are published today in an early online edition of the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previously, the system to grow and isolate neurons was very messy and it was unknown whether those neurons were functioning, Sun said. Were excited because we have been able to purify so many more neurons out of the cell culture and they were, surprisingly, healthy enough to form synapses. These cells will be excellent for doing gene expression studies and biochemical and protein analyses.

Suns method prodded human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into neural stem cells, the cells that give rise to neurons. When the time was right, Suns team added protein growth factors into the cell culture that stopped the neural stem cells from self-renewing and prodded them into diff
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Contact: Kim Irwin
kirwin@mednet.ucla.edu
310-206-2805
University of California - Los Angeles
7-Aug-2007


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