The identity of mature cells will provide clues towards a Parkinson's treatment
What do the specialised cells in the different tissues really do in order to maintain their identity throughout their life cycle? Thomas Perlmann and his colleagues hope by answering this question they are able to find clues to new treatments for neurological diseases.
The stem cells in an embryo are unique in that they can form many different types of mature cells. Mature cells lack this flexibility and are instead specialised in performing their organ specific functions in e.g. muscles or the brain. When the mature cells have been formed they retain their specialised properties for a very long time. In the event of disease, such as cancer, the mature cells find it difficult however to maintain their normal identity. Researchers also know that mature cells can be manipulated in the laboratory so that they change their identity and can even go back and become primitive stem cells.
Studies on mice and humans
In this project, researchers shall find out what happens when mature nerve cells retain their specific specialised properties so that they can function normally in the adult brain. They intend to study a specific type of nerve cell, the dopamine cells, which are destroyed in Parkinson's disease. They will examine dopamine cells from both mice and humans, both from healthy individuals and from patients with Parkinson's disease.
"We want to understand the gene regulatory mechanisms, which are important in order for the dopamine cells to work normally even in an aging brain," says Thomas Perlmann. "An important objective is to also understand how changes in the gene regulatory mechanisms contribute to diseases, and how they can be counteracted to develop new treatments."