Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, have found neural stem cells in epileptic brain tissue where they normally do not reside. This work is published in the scientific journal, Cerebral Cortex.
Neural stem cells are immature cells in the brain that are able to mature into neurons, astrocytes (non-neuronal support cells) or oligodendrocytes (producers of myelin, which is needed for effective neuronal signalling). They are normally found in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is involved in learning and memory, and in the subventricular domains.
This finding helps improve scientists’ understanding of how the brain responds to epilepsy.
The team, led, Dr Milos Pekny, analysed the brain tissue obtained from people with drug-resistant epilepsy who underwent surgery. In eight out of 14 tissue samples (57%), they discovered neural stem cells in areas where these types of cells are not normally found.
According to the authors of the study, “This may point to a greater plasticity in the epileptic tissue, which to some extent can be compared to the brain tissue of a newborn.”
When the scientists cultured the brain samples, they saw that the cells that gave rise to neural stem cells were not astrocytes as was previously thought.
New neurons are formed in the brain of adults throughout life. These originate from neural stem cells that are found in the subventricular zone, hippocampus and striatum of the brain. Experiments conducted on mice have shown that in neurological conditions such as brain injury or stroke, astrocytes exhibit neural stem cell-like properties. This study shows that this is not the case in the human brain, at least not in epilepsy.
Author: Dr Özge Özkaya