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Friday, 29 January 2010 02:20

Mouse skin cells converted into brain cells, without stem cells

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U.S. researchers have turned skin cells in mice into functioning nerve cells with the use of only three genes and without the need of the stem cell phase. These nerve cells function similar to neurons in the brain and could be used in the future to replace damaged tissues in humans.

The January 27, 2010 article by Stanford University's School of Medicine called 'Dramatic transformation: Researchers directly turn mouse skin cells into neurons, skipping IPS stage' relates the story about this exiting advancement in medicine.

Scientists from the Stanford University's School of Medicine announced Wednesday, January 27, 2010, that they had turned skin cells of mice into brain cells'”and the process took less then one week to complete.

The Stanford article states, ''¦ scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have succeeded in the ultimate switch: transforming mouse skin cells in a laboratory dish directly into functional nerve cells with the application of just three genes. The cells make the change without first becoming a pluripotent type of stem cell '” a step long thought to be required for cells to acquire new identities.'

The summary of the research was published online on January 27, 2010, in the journal Nature. Its authors, all from Stanford University's School of Medicine, are Dr. Marius Wernig, Thomas Vierbuchen, Thomas Südhof, Austin Ostermeier, Zhiping Pang, and Yuko Kokubu.

Its title is 'Direct conversion of fibroblasts to functional neurons by defined factors' (doi:10.1038/nature08797).

Dr. Marius Wernig, one of the Stanford researchers involved in the study, stated, 'We actively and directly induced one cell type to become a completely different cell type.' [Stanford]

Page two continues with Dr. Wernig's quote.


Wernig, who is associated with Stanford University's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Department of Pathology, and the Program in Cancer Biology, added, 'These are fully functional neurons. They can do all the principal things that neurons in the brain do.'

The advancement in medicine increases the chances that some day cells could be used to replace damaged tissues, such as cells injured due to medical reasons (Alzheimer's disease, for instance) or due to accidents (such as brain injuries from car accidents).

Three genes (Ascl1, Brn2 (also called Pou3f2) and Myt1l,) and proteins were used to reprogram the adult skin cells. The skin cells were first sent to a pluripotent state, which is the process that converts a cell from one tissue-specific cell type to another.

Pluripotent state is also called dedifferentiation (which is a process where less specialized cells become more specialized types of cells).

The cells in the pluripotent state were then directed to develop into a new cell type.

All of this was done without the need of an intermediate step, the IPS state or induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS or IPS) state.

This discovery in which the stem cell step can be bypassed may have ''¦ taken the controversy out of the entire field of stem cell research,' as is stated in the 1.27.2010 USA Today article 'A 'huge leap forward' for stem cell research.'

Page three concludes with how this research discovery could be "revolutionary."


The researchers' abstract stated, 'Starting from a pool of nineteen candidate genes, we identified a combination of only three factors, Ascl1, Brn2 (also called Pou3f2) and Myt1l, that suffice to rapidly and efficiently convert mouse embryonic and postnatal fibroblasts into functional neurons in vitro.'

The new research ''¦ skips this intermediary stage by converting mature cells, taken from the skin of mice tails, into neurons in a lab dish all in a single step.' [Stanford]

The study's results show that the new process, at 20%, is ten times more efficient that conventional pluripoten stem cell techniques.

Their abstract concludes, 'These induced neuronal (iN) cells express multiple neuron-specific proteins, generate action potentials and form functional synapses. Generation of iN cells from non-neural lineages could have important implications for studies of neural development, neurological disease modelling and regenerative medicine.

In conclusion, the Stanford article states, 'The finding could revolutionize the future of human stem cell therapy and recast our understanding of how cells choose and maintain their specialties in the body.'

Please read the Stanford University article ('Dramatic transformation: Researchers directly turn mouse skin cells into neurons, skipping IPS stage'), mentioned earlier, for more details on the research and discovery.

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