Simply converting stem cells into neurons does not do any good, as brain cells need synaptic connections in order to exhibit their physiology.
Researchers at the Cellular Neurobiology Research Branch of National Institutes of Health have been working to develop synaptic connections in the lab. The team managed to connect two different types of human pluripotent stem cell derived neurons that exhibited normal function.
The team used an 'ibidi wound healing dish' to connect mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons to neocortical brain cells. This was done by first growing the two types of cells in separate compartments within the dish.
Once sufficient sized colonies of each cell type were formed, brain-derived neurotrophic factor was added to the mix to help continue cellular differentiation.
The initially formed cells remained stagnant while tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive projections, that link up neural cells, formed within the gap between the separate chambers.
The researchers now hope this approach will help scientists study brain function, neural connectivity, and how these factors influence the causes and progression of different neurological diseases.