New neurons in diseased brain region

In a study published in the journal Cell, scientists at Karolinska Institutet show that new neurons are generated in the adult human striatum through measurements of carbon-14 that resulted from nuclear-testing. This discovery of another neuron-generating brain region, which was made by Professor Jonas Frise'n and his colleagues, could hold promise for future neurological therapies.

Adult humans continuously produce new neurons in the striatum, a brain region involved in motor control and cognitive functions, and these neurons could play an important role in recovery from stroke and possibly finding new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, according to a new study. To detect the birth of new neurons in the striatum, Professor Jonas Frise'n and colleagues used a method that measures carbon-14 found in human DNA as a result of above-ground nuclear testing more than half a century ago. The results reveal a surprise finding of new neurons in a human brain structure where they haven’t been previously described. This in turn may open up new avenues to treat diseases and disorders that affect the striatum.

“A wide variety of disorders may affect the striatum, including acquired conditions such as stroke and also genetically inherited disorders such as Huntington’s disease,” says study author Aure'lie Vallier Ernst of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at Karolinska Institutet. “We identified a unique pattern of neurogenesis in the adult human brain that might potentially be useful for the development of novel therapies for some of these neurological diseases.”

Adult humans and other mammals produce immature neurons in several brain regions, including the lateral ventricle wall. In rodents, new neurons in this brain structure migrate to the olfactory bulb, a brain region involved in odor perception. But this is not the case in humans, possibly because the sense of smell is less important for us than for other mammals. The fate of new neurons born in the lateral ventricle wall of humans had been a mystery.

Taking part of the study work did also researchers from Uppsala University, and universities in the USA and France. Funding organizations were the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Cancer Society, the Tobias Foundation, AFA Insurance, the ERC, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Torsten Söderberg Foundation, Karolinska Institutet’s StratRegen Program, and the Stockholm County Council (ALF).