AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Researchers Learn How to Grow Old Brain Cells

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Scientists from Salk Institute for Biological Studies recently developed a new technique to grow aged brain cells from human skin. During the study, fibroblasts (cells in connective tissue) from elderly participant donors were directly converted into induced neurons. “This lets us keep age-related signatures in the cells so that we can more easily study the effects of aging on the brain,” said the study’s lead researcher. “By using this powerful approach, we can begin to answer many questions about the physiology and molecular machinery of human nerve cells — not just around healthy aging but pathological aging as well.” Historically, animal models have been the go-to technique for studying the biological consequences of aging, especially in tissues that can’t be easily sampled from living humans, like the brain. During the study, scientists collected skin cells from 19 people, ranging in age from birth to age 89, and prompted them to turn into brain cells using both the induced pluripotent stem cell technique and the direct conversion approach. When the induced pluripotent stem-cell method was used, as expected, the patterns in the neurons were indistinguishable between young and old derived samples. However, the brain cells that had been created using the direct conversion technique had different patterns of gene expression depending on whether they were created from young donors or older adults. Now that the direct conversion of skin cells to neurons has been shown to retain these signatures of age, researchers expect the technique to become a valuable tool for studying aging. To read more about this study, click here.

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