Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey

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Researchers Find Adult Marrow Cells
Become Neurons in the Embryonic Brain
- Study Appears in the May 12 Issue of Journal of Neuroscience -

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University News Service

Adult bone marrow stem cells transplanted to the living rat embryonic brain differentiate into neurons, according to scientists from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The team found that the cells migrated throughout the brain, activated selected genes appropriate to specialized brain regions, and survived at least into young adulthood.

Thes research, published in the May 12 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, may foster new approaches to birth defects and developmental abnormalities.

Four years ago the scientific team, led By Dr. Ira Black, chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, succeeded in converting adult human and rat marrow cells into neurons in cell culture.

Their next question was whether this same conversion could occur in the living brain. To explore this possibility, the researchers grew marrow cells in culture, collected them, and injected them into the brains of embryos in the rat uterus. The brains were then examined prenatally, just after birth and during young adulthood.

"It's exciting that the marrow cells exhibited the same flexibility in the living brain as we had observed in culture," said Dr. Black, who is also director of The Stem Cell Center at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The cells migrated throughout the brain, populating the cerebral cortex, the thinking region, and centers that serve learning and memory. "Remarkably, marrow cells also localized to germinal areas that give rise to new neurons," said Dr. Black, "and may be a source of new neurons for a prolonged period."

The marrow cells formed guiding fibers that direct neurons to distant sites, and also formed the migrating neurons themselves. In all, thousands of marrow cell-derived neurons populated the brain.

The scientists also identified super-specialized neurons that activated genes which are critical in the neurons that degenerate in Parkinson's disease. They are presently studying the use of marrow cells in models of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. "We hope to examine the function of these special cells in degenerative neuropsychiatric disorders and spinal cord injury."

To arrange an interview with Dr. Black, please call Susan Preston in the UMDNJ News
Service at (973) 972-7265 or e-mail her at