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Behavioural experiments confirm: Increasing the generation of neurons boosts brain function

17 January 2019
Scientists from TU Dresden search for new methods to cure neurodegenerative diseases
Most of the neurons in the human brain are generated from neural stem cells during embryonic development. After birth, a small reservoir of stem cells remains in the brain  that  keeps  on  producing new neurons throughout life. But, do these new neurons contribute to brain function? And if so, could we improve brain capacities by  increasing  their  number?  The  research  group  of  Prof.  Federico  Calegari  at  the Center  for  Regenerative  Therapies  Dresden  (CRTD)  of  TU  Dresden has answered those questions, now published in the renowned EMBO Journal.

In their latest study, the scientists analysed adult and healthy mice in which the small reservoir of stem cells was manipulated in order to increase in number. As a result, the number  of  neurons  generated  from  these  stem  cells  also  increased.  In  mice, these neurons mainly populate the brain area responsible for interpreting odours.

In fact, olfaction is one to the most powerful senses in mice, fundamental for finding food and escape predators. As powerful as the sense of smell naturally is in mice, in the  following  behavioural experiments the scientists found that mice with more neurons we able to discriminate extremely similar odorants that normal mice failed to distinguish.  Hence, this study is fundamental in proving  that stem cells can be used to improve brain function.

The CRTD at the TU Dresden is academic home for scientists from more than 30 nations. Their  mission is to discover the principles of cell and tissue regeneration and leveraging this for  recognition, treatment and reversal of diseases. The CRTD links the bench to the clinic, scientists to clinicians to bring expertise in stem cells, gene-editing and regeneration towards innovative therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, haematological diseases such as leukaemia, metabolic diseases such as  diabetes, retina and bone diseases. The group  of  Prof.  Federico  Calegari  focus  on mammalian  neural  stem  cells in the context of development, evolution and cognitive functions. This study was financed by the TU  Dresden  /  CRTD,  DFG  German  Research Foundation and the Human Frontiers Science Program. It performed  in collaboration with the Heidelberg University, Gutenberg University Mainz and King’s College London and was supported by the Center for Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering (CMCB) of TU Dresden.

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