04 December 2014

Neurons for Algernon

Transplantation of cells from the human brain changed the mental abilities of mice

<url>Scientists have changed the brains of mice by adding several cells from the human body (so in the text – VM).

As a result, the intelligence level of modified rodents has increased dramatically. Neurons (cells responsible for thought processes) they have preserved their natural appearance, but almost all glial cells (providing the vital activity of neurons) have been replaced by human cells (in total they occupy about 40 percent of the brain volume). Neurophysiologists told about these experiments on the pages of the Journal of Neuroscience (Windrem et al., A Competitive Advantage by Neonatally Engraved Human Glial Progenitors Yields Mice Whose Brains Are Chimeric for Human Glia – VM), and they are briefly reported by New Scientist (The smart mouse with the half-human brain – VM).

Steve Goldman from the University of Rochester Medical Center extracted undeveloped neuroglial cells from embryos donated to the university and injected them into the brains of mice. There the cells grew and turned into astrocytes. Cells of this type play an important role in thinking: they strengthen the connections between neurons (so-called synapses). Human astrocytes are 10-20 times larger than mice, and have a hundred times more processes (ganglia) that regulate the transmission of signals between synapses.

In about a year, 300,000 cells multiplied to 12 million, displacing mouse astrocytes to marginal sites. Such an increase in "computing power" did not slow down to affect the mental abilities of rodents: for example, they remembered four times longer about the connection of a certain sound with a weak electric shock.

Now Goldman plans to introduce human neuroglial cells to more intelligent laboratory animals – rats. Scientists have already made the first injections and are now tracking the pathways of cell proliferation.

Although the scientist's experiments make us think of the film "Deep Blue Sea", where intelligent sharks arise after experiments to combat Alzheimer's disease, or about the story "Flowers for Algernon", whose hero, like his predecessor, a laboratory mouse, turned from a moron into a genius, and then regressed to its original state, Goldman insists that the new cells do not bring mice closer to Homo sapiens.

"The introduction of neuroglial cells does not give them any human abilities. Our experience has simply increased the efficiency of the animal's neural networks. However, the mouse still remained a mouse," the scientist said.

In addition, the researchers made a fundamental decision not to transplant human cells to monkeys – primarily for ethical reasons.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru04.12.2014

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