Scientists Grow Tissues Resembling Human Mid-Brains

Grown from stem cells in the laboratory, these mid-brain structures could one day be used to test drugs for aging-related brain disorders.

AsianScientist (Aug. 2, 2016) – Scientists in Singapore have developed 3D miniature tissues resembling the human mid-brain. The findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, could potentially help researchers develop treatments for and conduct studies into aging-related brain diseases.

The human mid-brain, which is the information superhighway of the central nervous system, controls hearing, eye and body movements, and vision. It contains special neurons called dopaminergic neurons that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that carries out significant roles in executive functions, motor control, motivation, reinforcement and reward.

High levels of dopamine elevate motor activity and impulsive behavior. Low levels of dopamine, on the other hand, lead to slowed reactions and disorders like Parkinson’s disease (PD), which is characterized by stiffness and difficulties in initiating movements. In PD, a dramatic reduction in neuromelanin production is observed, leading to the degenerative condition of patients, which includes tremors and impaired motor skills.

Jointly led by Professor Ng Huck Hui from A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore and Assistant Professor Shawn Je from Duke-NUS Medical School, the research team used stem cells to grow pieces of tissue, known as brain organoids, each measuring about 2-3 mm long. The organoids were found to be functionally active and contain the necessary hallmarks of dopaminergic neurons, including neuromelanin production.

“It is remarkable that our mid-brain organoids mimic human mid-brain development. The cells divide, cluster together in layers, and become electrically and chemically active in a 3D environment like our brain,” said Je.

The article can be found at: Jo et al. (2016) Midbrain-like Organoids from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells Contain Functional Dopaminergic and Neuromelanin-Producing Neurons.


Source: Genome Institute of Singapore.
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