First stem cell lines specific to bipolar disorder have been derived by University of Michigan Medical School, and fueled by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund scientists.
The team used skin from people with bipolar disorder to derive the first-ever stem cell lines specific to the condition. In a new paper in Translational Psychiatry
, they report how they transformed the stem cells into neurons, similar to those found in the brain - and compared them to cells derived from people without bipolar disorder.
The comparison revealed very specific differences in how these neurons behave and communicate with each other, and identified striking differences in how the neurons respond to lithium, the most common treatment for bipolar disorder.
It's the first time scientists have directly measured differences in brain cell formation and function between people with bipolar disorder and those without.
The researchers are from the Medical School's Department of Cell & Developmental Biology and Department of Psychiatry, and U-M's Depression Center.
Stem cells as a window on bipolar disorder
The team used a type of stem cell called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs. By taking small samples of skin cells and exposing them to carefully controlled conditions, the team coaxed them to turn into stem cells that held the potential to become any type of cell. With further coaxing, the cells became neurons.
"This gives us a model that we can use to examine how cells behave as they develop into neurons. Already, we see that cells from people with bipolar disorder are different in how often they express certain genes, how they differentiate into neurons, how they communicate, and how they respond to lithium," says Sue O'Shea, Ph.D., the experienced U-M stem cell specialist who co-led the work.
"We're very excited about these findings. But we're only just beginning to understand what we can do with these cells to help answer the many unanswered questions in bipolar disorder's origins and treatment," says Melvin McInnis, M.D., principal investigator of the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund and its programs.
"For instance, we can now envision being able to test new drug candidates in these cells, to screen possible medications proactively instead of having to discover them fortuitously."
The research was supported by donations from the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, the Steven M. Schwartzberg Memorial Fund, and the Joshua Judson Stern Foundation. The A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the U-M Medical School also supported the work, which was reviewed and approved by the U-M Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research Oversight committee and Institutional Review Board.