For the first time, human embryonic stem cells have been transformed into nerve cells that helped mice regain the ability to learn and remember. A study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the first to show that human stem cells can successfully implant themselves in the brain and then heal neurological deficits, says senior author Su-Chun Zhang, a professor of neuroscience and neurology.
Once inside the mouse brain, the implanted stem cells formed two common, vital types of neurons, which communicate with the chemicals GABA or acetylcholine. “These two neuron types are involved in many kinds of human behavior, emotions, learning, memory, addiction and many other psychiatric issues,” says Zhang.
The human embryonic stem cells were cultured in the lab, using chemicals that are known to promote development into nerve cells—a field that Zhang has helped pioneer for 15 years. The mice were a special strain that do not reject transplants from other species.
After the transplant, the mice scored significantly better on common tests of learning and memory in mice. For example, they were more adept in the water maze test, which challenged them to remember the location of a hidden platform in a pool. Via Embryonic stem cell transplant restores memory, learning in mice.