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Conversion of brain cells may help Parkinson's patients

Researchers have made significant progress in the search for new treatments for Parkinson's disease.

By Amy Wallace
Conversion of brain cells may help Parkinson's patients
Researchers were successful at reprogramming cells in the brain to revert motor symptoms in models of Parkinson's disease. Photo by geralt/PixaBay

April 11 (UPI) -- Research by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden was able to reprogram cells in the brain to revert motor symptoms in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease.

Researchers were able to reproduce the cellular function and responses in human brain cells in a laboratory setting. The conversion of brain cells into a subset of nerve cells known as dopamine neurons is key to the research because dopamine neurons are what degenerate and die in the brains of Parkinson's patients.

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The team was able to convert non-neuronal glial cells in the brains of mice into new dopamine neurons, creating new neurons. The type of glial cells used were astrocytes, which are highly abundant in the brains of mice and humans.

Researchers changed astrocytes in a mouse model of Parkinson's into functioning dopamine neurons resulting in measurable markers of dopamine signaling in the mouse brain and a significant reduction in Parkinson's symptoms.

Researchers also performed experiments on human astrocytes in the lab and were able to convert them into functional dopamine neurons, increasing the potential for treatment in humans in the future.

"We think that in the future, it may be possible to deliver genes and small molecules, rather than cells, to replace the dopamine neurons lost in Parkinson's disease," Ernest Arenas, professor at Karolinska Institute's department of medical biochemistry and biophysics, said in a press release.

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The study was published in Nature Biotechnology.

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