New cell therapy demonstrated to improve memory and prevent epilepsy in mice following TBI

A team of researchers discovered that transplanting embryonic progenitor cells in the brains of mice with TBI resulted in improved memory and prevented the development of epilepsy.

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A team of researchers from the University of California, Irvine (CA, USA) have developed a new cell therapy to improve memory and prevent the development of epilepsy in mice following traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

In the study published in Nature Communications, the team transplanted embryonic, GABAergic progenitor cells, which integrated as mature inhibitory interneurons, in the hippocampus of mice with TBI. 

The researchers discovered that the new transplanted neurons migrated to the injury and formed new connections with the damaged brain cells. within a month following treatment, the mice demonstrated signs of memory improvement, such as being able to distinguish between a box they had unpleasant experience from one where they did not just as well as mice that never had a brain injury. 

The study also revealed that the cell transplant prevented the mice from developing epilepsy, which affected more than half the mice with TBI who did not receive the treatment. 

       Inhibitory neurons are critically involved in many aspects of memory, and they are extremely vulnerable to dying after a brain injury,” commented senior author, Robert Hunt (University of California, Irvine). “While we cannot stop interneurons from dying, it was exciting to find that we can replace them and rebuild their circuits.”

Hunt and his team previously used a similar technique in newborn mice to improve memory in mice with a genetic disorder, however, this current study represents an exciting advancement for the researchers. 

       The idea to regrow neurons that die off after a brain injury is something that neuroscientists have been trying to do for a long time,” Hunt explained. “But often, the transplanted cells don’t survive, or they aren’t able to migrate or develop into functional neurons.”

The team silenced the transplanted cells using a drug, which resulted in the memory problems returning, further confirming their initial observations. 

        It was exciting to see the animals’ memory problems come back after we silenced the transplanted cells, because it showed that the new neurons really were the reason for the memory improvement,” commented Bingyao Zhu (University of California, Irvine), first author of the study.

TBI affects 2 million Americans per year and many of those experience memory loss and can develop epilepsy, however, there is currently no available treatment. Therefore, further research creating interneurons from human stem cells could have great positive impact on TBI patients. 

        So far, nobody has been able to convincingly create the same types of interneurons from human pluripotent stem cells, but I think we’re close to being able to do this,” concluded Hunt. 

Sources: Zhu B, Eom J and Hunt RF. Transplanted interneurons improve memory precision after traumatic brain injury. Nat. Commun. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13170-w (2019) (Epub ahead of print); 

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