Researchers in California published in a letter to Nature journal stating that they had successfully converted an adult skin cell into a functioning neuron. The study entitled, Induction of human neuronal cells by defined transcription factors, is not yet in its final stages of publications but its ramifications are boundless.
Dr. Pang and his team previously showed that only three factors were required to convert a fibroblast (cells which make up connective tissue giving out cells and organs structure) into a neuronal cell. These new cells were called induced neuronal (iN) cells. These same factors along with one additional factor were used in this study and confirmed that stem cells were not the only cell types which could be induced to change its function permanently.
The factors found to be successful were a combination of Brn2, Ascl1, Myt1l and NeuroD1. Within even three days of infection of viruses (lentivirus) which contained these factors, changes were observed in the cell morphology (shape) and function. By six days the cells began really behaving like neurons by firing and receiving action potentials along their axons and dendrites. The maturity of these nascent neurons depend on the combination of the three former factors. However to convert adult (not stem) cells into neurons, NeuroD1 is essential. To further test the ability of these cells, the neurotransmitter (NT) GABA was tested for. GABA is involved in toning muscles and is very common in the body. The iN cells not only had GABA, but this NT could also be blocked at will.
The ramifications of this study are extremely powerful. Though the number of cells which were induced is only 8%, this research has the ability to cause ripples in the world of regenerative medicine. Imagine being able to cure spinal cord and brain injuries safely and effectively. This research can open the door to such ground-breaking treatments. Such a process can cure Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Completely treat people who have suffered strokes and MS. Only time will tell how effective this research can be converted into its clinical applications.