A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen reveals that genetic defects may damage the glial cells, supporting cells of the brain, which in turn could lead to various brain disorders, such as schizophrenia. In the study, the researchers performed tests with mice whose brains were colonized with glial cells from humans.
During the embryonic stage of brain formation, the process follows a strict protocol in accordance with a recipe formed by a specific type of stem cell, known as the progenitor cell. These cells eventually develop into glial cells, brain support cells, which include both oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. These neuroglial cells play a huge role in the formation and maintenance of neural networks throughout one’s lifespan.
The new study reveals that recognizable genetic depositions may cause disease to develop in the progenitor cells, which may damage the maturation of the support cells. Which in turn could weaken the production by oligodendrocytes of myelin, a protective layer that covers the nerve pathways of the brain. The lack of myelin is a contributor of schizophrenia.
The research team has identified various decisive genes that are known for triggering the defects in the progenitor cells. This could lead to the development of new stem cell treatment and drugs to treat schizophrenia.
“It was through studies of mice and human glial cells that we succeeded in testing how dysfunctional glial cells may cause abnormalities in the formation of the brain’s neural networks, which may in turn cause severe anxiety, anti-social behavior and severe sleep problems. We see these problems in the mice, just as in human patients. This is an important discovery because it will now enable us to develop methods that can counteract the unwanted development of progenitor cells,” says Steven Goldmen, professor for the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester and University of Copenhagen.