Purkinje cells branch out like tiny trees, each branch making an important connection in part of the brain called the cerebellum. These Purkinjes (stained green) were grown outside the brain, though, by surrounding stem cells with other types of brain cell (blue) and a mixture of chemicals. Healthy Purkinjes (top row) are compared with those grown from diseased cells (bottom). Removing an important growth chemical has little effect on healthy cells, but shrivels the cell on the bottom left, from a patient with spinocerebellar ataxia type 6 (SCA6), a neurodegenerative disease. There is good news, though: treatment with different drugs (bottom middle and right) appears to combat this weakness, and restore the diseased Purkinjes’ tree-like shape. This is an important step for those researching treatments for SCA6, but also means that lab-grown Purkinjes can be used to test drugs for a number of other diseases.
Written by John Ankers
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