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New Neurons Needed?

Posted on February 2, 2019

The majority of neurons found in the human brain are created during embryonic development from neural stem cells. After birth, the brain retains a small stem cell reserve to regenerate and replace neural cells throughout the rest of our lives. But, do these cells support brain function? If so, can memory capacity increase if the number of neurons increases, too? Researchers at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) of TU Dresden may have the answer.

The CRTD at TU Dresden is a global organization that brings together scientists from more than 30 countries. Their mission is to uncover the benefits of cell and tissue regeneration therapies for understanding and treating diseases. The CRTD at TU Dresden focuses on benefits and research of neurodegenerative diseases, blood disorders, metabolic conditions, bone disease and conditions that impact the retina.

In a test group of mice, the researchers increased the number of neural stem cells in the brain area responsible for deciphering smells. For mice, the ability to smell, also known as olfaction, is one of the most potent and essential senses. The ability to smell is critical to a mouse’s ability to find food and avoid predators.

By increasing the number of neural stem cells, the number of olfactory neurons also increased. The researchers noticed during subsequent behavioral experiments that the mice with more olfactory neurons could differentiate between odors that were very similar more readily than a group of control mice that did not receive extra neural stem cells.

The study authors believe that their results are a good indicator of a possible connection between increasing the neural stem cells and improvements in brain capacity.

They hope that they can translate their approach into new therapies for individuals living with neurodegenerative diseases.

Neurodegenerative diseases occur when the structure or function of neurons changes, or when neurons die, which can be a result of aging, illness or a traumatic injury.

Neurodegenerative diseases include conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, Tay-Sachs disease, Alzheimer’s disease and all forms of dementia, Huntington’s disease, and CTE, also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people in the United States and around the world. The most common neurodegenerative conditions are Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

There is no cure for most neurodegenerative conditions, so the CRTD study could become a critical step in treating current and future patients.

“The need for new treatments and potential cures is significant,” said Dr. Joel Singer, a New York physician.

The need for a cure is critical because neurodegenerative diseases can cause severe symptoms and even death. Side effects of these conditions include memory loss, confusion, changes in personality, apathy, and mood and personality changes.

Neurodegenerative conditions can also affect movement, balance, the ability to walk or stand, and the ability to perform day-to-day activities. Some diseases can negatively impact autonomic functions of the body, such as breathing, digestion and excretion.

“These conditions cause a slow degeneration of the mind and body over time,” Singer said.

Conventional treatments and drug therapy can often slow down the progression of these diseases or their symptoms.

“But, although these conditions may be slowed down, the damage to the neurons of the brain continues,” Singer said.

The CRTD in TU Dresden study is one of many studies investigating the benefits of using neural stem cells to help treat neurodegenerative diseases. A 2018 study from the University of Cambridge focused on waking up sleeping neural stem cells to spur them to generate new healthy neurons in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Source: 

Technische Universität Dresden. “Scientists search for new methods to cure neurodegenerative diseases.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 January 2019.

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