AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


First Cell Culture of Live Adult Human Neurons Shows Potential of Brain Cell Types

Penn study highlights personalized approach to understanding and treating brain disorders

Studying brain disorders in people and developing drugs to treat them has been slowed by the inability to investigate single living cells from adult patients. In a first-of-its-kind study, a team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania led by James Eberwine, PhD, a professor of Pharmacology; Sean Grady, MD, chair of Neurosurgery; and Junhyong Kim, PhD, a professor of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, was able to grow adult human neurons donated from patients who had undergone surgery. From these cell cultures, they identified more than five brain cell types and the potential proteins each cell could make. “We were surprised that we could grow these neurons at all,” Eberwine said. “The oldest tissue came from a donor who was in their mid-60s. This is even more surprising because neurons do not divide, so they need to last a lifetime. We are finally able to characterize adult-aged cells from the most enigmatic organ of the body – the seat of learning and memory, as well as consciousness.” This avenue of research is in line with the goals of the national BRAIN Initiative – including a cell census of neurons in the brain. In these terms, the characterizing feature is the cell’s transcriptome: those genes that are transcribed into RNA to make working proteins, which differ from cell to cell. “This tells us the potential of each cell to function and respond,” Eberwine said.

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