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Brain can Regenerate Neurons After Stroke

Update Date: Oct 10, 2014 04:26 PM EDT

A team of researchers from Sweden have discovered a previously unknown mechanism of self-repair in mice brain. This could possibly lead to targeted repair of brain cells.

Researchers from Lund University and Karolinska Institute found that astrocytes, cells that support neurons, can form immature nerve cells which can mature later. The conversion of astrocytes to nerve cells happens only after a stroke. A stroke deprives blood supply to the affected part of the brain, causing nerve cells to die.

"This is the first time that astrocytes have been shown to have the capacity to start a process that leads to the generation of new nerve cells after a stroke", says Zaal Kokaia, Professor of Experimental Medical Research at Lund University," in a press release.

The researchers found that a healthy brain prevents conversion of astrocytes into nerve cells by maintaining a signalling mechanism. A stroke blocks this mechanism, causing astrocytes to convert. The team found they could block the mechanism even in the absence of a stroke and induce conversion of astrocytes.

"Interestingly, even when we blocked the signalling mechanism in mice not subjected to a stroke, the astrocytes formed new nerve cells. This indicates that it is not only a stroke that can activate the latent process in astrocytes. Therefore, the mechanism is a potentially useful target for the production of new nerve cells, when replacing dead cells following other brain diseases or damage," Kokaia said.

This signalling mechanism could be a target for inducing brain repair, researchers said.

"If the new mechanism also operates in the human brain and can be potentiated, this could become of clinical importance not only for stroke patients, but also for replacing neurons which have died, thus restoring function in patients with other disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease", Olle Lindvall, Senior Professor of Neurology, said.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.

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