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Cell reset in the brain

In 2012, a research team headed by Prof. Dr. Magdalena Götz (Physiological Genomics, BMC and Helmholtz Center Munich), Dr. Marisa Karow (BMC) and Prof. Dr. Benedikt Berninger (University Medical Center, Mainz) was able to show that reprograming connective tissue cells (pericytes) occurring in the brain into nerve cells (induced neurons) is possible. However, the intermediate stages these pericytes undergo on their way to becoming neurons have been unclear.
Marisa Karow, group leader at the BMC, now addressed the open question of the intermediate stages, and could show in a current study with colleagues in Munich (LMU, BMC), Mainz (University Medicine), Leipzig (MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology), and London (King´s College) that during reprogramming of brain pericytes into functional neurons cells pass through a stem cell-like state.

For this purpose, the team used newest technology that allowed detailed analysis of the gene expression pattern of single cells. During the newly identified stem cell-like state the researchers have been able to manipulate important signaling pathways. According to first author Marisa Karow, this approach allowed to enhance or suppress the cellular reprogramming. Discovering mechanisms that lead to direct reprogramming of somatic cells to induced neurons raises hopes of being able to repair diseased brain tissue in the future.

The results are published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/s41593-018-0168-3).