Page URL:

Brain cells made from skin

18 July 2011
Appeared in BioNews 616

US researchers have successfully converted human skin cells directly into brain nerve cells, skipping an intermediate stem cell stage. The new technique has the potential to aid research into neurodegenerative disorders of the brain, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

What we made are neurons that are characteristic of the frontal cortex [of the brain] – what you'd imagine would be the most difficult [nerve cells] to make. They're the ones we think with, that we use to put two things together and see the connections, not the ones involved in evolutionary older emotional responses, said Professor Gerald Crabtree of the University of Stanford, who was involved in the study.

Previous studies have demonstrated how nerve cells can be generated from embryonic stem cells or skin cells which are first transformed into iPS cells. The direct conversion of skin cells into nerve cells, achieved by introducing specific sequences of RNA, skips this intermediate stage allowing researchers to study the behaviour of brain cells more easily in the future, said the study authors.

A major problem in neurobiology has been the lack of a good human model. Neurons aren't like blood. They're not something people want to give up said Professor Crabtree.

The human skin cells were obtained from a 30-year-old woman and then converted into nerve cells by adding two short strands of RNA, known as micro-RNA. Results suggest in the future nerve cells could be grown from a patient's own skin cells. This would allow further, detailed study of a patient's condition and possible subsequent treatment. It would also avoid the use of iPS and embryonic stem cells.

The introduction of specific micro-RNA sequences, called miR-9* and miR-124, altered the regulation of the cells' chromosomes at a molecular level. This resulted in altered gene expression, causing the skin cells to transform into mature nerve cells. These nerve cells were specific to a region of the brain known to control higher functions.

'[This] is the region most compromised in Down's syndrome, Alzheimer's and many other human neurologic diseases. Mice have few of these neurons, making mice poor models for many human neurologic diseases', said Professor Crabtree.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Brain cells made from human skin
NHS Choices |  14 July 2011
Hope for millions of Alzheimer's sufferers as scientists make brain cells from human skin
The Independent |  14 July 2011
MicroRNA-mediated conversion of human fibroblasts to neurons
Nature |  13 July 2011
MicroRNAs transform adult cells into neurons
Howard Hughes Medical Institute |  13 July 2011
22 April 2013 - by Dr Anna Cauldwell 
Skin cells have been directly converted into the types of cells destroyed in patients with myelin disorders like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy in a pair of studies on mice...
20 February 2012 - by Dr Caroline Hirst 
Skin cells from volunteers with Down's syndrome have been turned into brain cells in order to provide a new model for researchers to study Alzheimer's disease...
13 February 2012 - by George Frodsham 
Human brain cells with Parkinson's disease have been successfully grown in a Petri dish, allowing researchers to study them in unprecedented detail. Researchers used a technique in which skin cells are transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can then be made to change into any cell type – in this case, neurons...
6 February 2012 - by Cathy Holding 
Mouse skin cells have been converted directly into neural precursor cells which go on to form the major cells in the brain...
5 December 2011 - by George Frodsham 
Two separate studies have successfully transplanted neurons into the brains of mice. The transplanted neurons are able to send and receive electrical impulses, and can be used to compensate for faulty brain cells, restoring normal function. Both studies sourced the transplanted neurons from embryos – mouse embryos in one case, human embryonic stem cells were used in the other...
7 February 2011 - by Leo Perfect 
Adult human cells maintain a 'memory' when reprogrammed into a stem cell-like state, US scientists have found. The finding suggests the resulting induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are not yet a viable alternative to human embryonic stem (ES) cells for modelling or treating disease...
19 July 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
US and Japanese researchers have converted white blood cells (WBC) into stem cells...
14 April 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey 
Nerve tissue derived from stem cells made from reprogrammed skin developed into normal brain tissue and relieved symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) last week. Scientists at the Whitehead...
2 October 2006 - by Laura Goodall 
The first trial for a proposed stem cell treatment for Batten's disease is about to begin. Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University's (OHSU) Doernbecher Children's Hospital, US, plan to treat six children with the rare neurodegenerative disorder by using fetal stem cell transplants. Children with...
30 July 2001 - by BioNews 
Scientists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine have reported that fetal brain disorders may be able to be corrected using stem cells. The researchers say that when human neural stem cells were injected into the damaged brain of monkeys during gestation, some of the cells became 'an integral...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.