An important gene has been identified by the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University's (OHSU) researchers, which appears to control stem cells becoming other brain cells. New therapies can be discovered for conditions like Parkinson's disease and brain injury as a result of continued research. The brain stem cells differentiate into neurons, in the early stages before birth, which become glial cells in later stages.
The glial cells perform several functions which are inclusive of supporting the neurons. The brahma-related gene-1 (Brg-1) which the researchers studied is also found in mice. Mice were bred by the scientists which were lacking in the gene in their nervous system, which resulted in embryos with smaller brains with neurons, but no glial cells. When the neural stem cells were isolated and placed into cell culture, and the Brg1 was removed, the cells became neurons, but did not differentiate into glia.
As the Brg1 expression which is in the stem cells in culture can be manipulated, there is now a way of generating neurons which can be utilized for replacing lost cells. Since only one gene cell is involved in the process, it should not be difficult to develop drugs which promote stem cell differentiation. Scientists are of the opinion that the loss of brain cells which produce dopamine in the case of Parkinson's disease can be reversed by timing the expression of brg-1 in stem cells in the brain to replace the lost cells.
Damaged motor neurons in the case patients with brain injuries can also be replaced as a result of the research. The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the National Institute's of Health, and the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon funded the research.