Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Injecting virus into brain may relieve Parkinson’s symptoms - NEUROSCIENCE
Using a virus to reprogram cells in the brain could be a radical way to treat Parkinson’s disease.
People with Parkinson’s have difficulty controlling their movements due to the death of neurons that make dopamine, a brain signalling chemical. Transplants of fetal cells have shown promise for replacing these dead neurons in people with the disease, and a trial is currently under way.
But the transplant tissue comes from aborted pregnancies, meaning it is in short supply, and some people may find this ethically difficult. Recipients of these cells have to take immunosuppressant drugs too.
Ernest Arenas, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and his team have found a new way to replace lost dopamine-making neurons. They injected a virus into the brains of mice whose dopamine neurons had been destroyed. This virus had been engineered to carry four genes for reprogramming astrocytes – the brain’s support cells – into dopamine neurons.
Five weeks later, the team saw improvements in how the mice moved. “They walked better and their gait showed less asymmetry than controls,” says Arenas. This is the first study to show that reprogramming cells in the living brain can lead to such improvements, he says.