Neurodegenerative diseases: searching for a cure

Neurodegenerative diseases: searching for a cure
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TU Dresden scientists confirm that additional neurons improve brain function – does this mean we’re a step closer to curing neurodegenerative diseases?

Most neurons in the human brain are generated from neural stem cells during embryonic development. After birth, a small reservoir of stem cells remains in the brain that keeps on producing new neurons throughout life. However, the question rises as to whether these new neurons really support brain function? If so, can we improve brain capacity by increasing the number of neurons? And could this enable researchers to be a step closer to tackling neurodegenerative diseases?

This research is published in EMBO Journal.

The word of neurodegenerative diseases

In this study, scientists analysed healthy adult mice in which the small reservoir of stem cells was manipulated in order to increase in number.

As a result of this, the number of neurons, generated from these stem cells, also increased. In mice, these neurons mainly populate the brain area responsible for interpreting odours. In fact, olfaction is one to the most powerful senses in mice, fundamental for finding food and escape from predators.

As powerful as the sense of smell naturally is in mice, in the following behavioural experiments the scientists discovered that mice with more neurons were able to distinguish extremely similar odours that normal mice failed to. Hence, this study is fundamental in proving that stem cells can be used to improve brain function.

Professor Federico Calegari at the Centre for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) of TU Dresden, Germany, said: “Evolution gave mice an extremely sensitive olfactory system. It is amazing that by adding few neurons we could improve something that seemed already close to perfection.”

“This study sets the basis for our research, which now is focused on finding out whether we could apply our strategy as a therapeutic approach in neurodegenerative models.”

More about CRTD

The CRTD at TU Dresden is the academic home for scientists from more than 30 nations. Their mission is to discover the principles of cell and tissue regeneration and leveraging this for recognition, treatment and reversal of diseases.

The CRTD links the bench to the clinic, scientists to clinicians to bring expertise in stem cells, gene-editing and regeneration towards ground-breaking therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, haematological diseases such as leukaemia, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, retina and bone diseases.

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