Transplanted human neural stem cells improve memory in rats

Laboratory-grown human neural stem cells, the building blocks of the brain, were successfully transplanted for the first time into the brains of aged rats and dramatically improved the animals' cognitive function, according to a study by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Researchers led by Kiminobu Sugaya, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC, found that in a spatial memory task, aged rats that had received the transplants were able to perform as well as younger rats without memory impairments. The findings are reported in the May 1 edition of NeuroReport, a fully refereed online journal that offers fast publication times for breaking scientific news. The journal is devoting a special issue to this paper.

The research is a first step in Sugaya's hope of curing neurodegenerative diseases in humans by replacing overworked brain cells with fresh cultured stem cells. The transplantation of stem cells, followed by incorporation of the cells into the host brain and subsequent cognitive improvement, is the first successful experiment of its kind in the world. The results of the study could lay the foundation for new treatments in diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Neural cell transplant studies recently suffered a setback when transplanted fetal cells worsened symptoms in Parkinson's patients. However, Sugaya pointed out, his team injected different types of cells into the brain-not already differentiated neural fetal cells but laboratory-grown stem cells, which are not differentiated.

This tactic allowed the host brain to take over, dictating where the stem cells should migrate and what types of cells they should become. As a result, Sugaya said, the transplanted cells became functionally integrated into the neuronal circuitry of the host animal.

"We believe this offers a promising line of research in treating brain disorders," said Sugaya.

In the study, 32 rats were trained to swim to a hidden escape platform i

Contact: Sharon Butler
University of Illinois at Chicago

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