Saturday, August 02, 2008
Research published in Nature Neuroscience , electronic publication ahead of print) has shown that adult stem cells in mice that are developing into nerve cells can be redirected to turn into myelin-making cells by changing a single gene . This type of research may some day help repair the damage to myelin which occurs in multiple sclerosis (MS).
In people with MS the immune system can attack both myelin and myelin making cells (oligodendrocytes). Limiting the number of myelin making cells impairs the capacity to repair the damage to myelin. One potential treatment option currently being investigated involves encouraging immature stem cells that reside in the adult brain, called neural stem cells, to move to areas of damage and repair myelin.
When neural stem cells are grown in the laboratory scientists have been able to reprogramme them to develop into several different types of brain cells, including oligodendrocytes. This latest research which took place in The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California sought to determine if it would be possible to repeat these experiments in the brain.
A gene called Asc1 which is associated with oligodendrocyte development was introduced into the stem cells in the brain and caused neural stem cells to develop into oligodendrocytes.
This study confirms that adult stem cells in the brain retain their ability to be converted to certain other types of brain cells. Further research is needed to determine the significance of these finding to myelin repair in people with MS.
Dr Laura Bell at the MS Society said: 'Finding a way to cause stem cells which are already present in the brain to repair damaged myelin is an attractive potential treatment option for people with MS. This is early research but it is an important step and we look forward to seeing how the work progresses.'