Understanding the needs of lab-grown neurons to better benefit neurological disease research
Like nervous performers, our nerve cells or neurons start out immature – they’re nurtured during development and perhaps ‘trained’ by interacting with other cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) – the swirling troupe of chemicals that surrounds our young cells. Trying to encourage lab-grown neurons to mature from a type of stem cell, researchers find it’s not enough just to have the ECM chemicals present, they have to move in rhythm with the neurons. Grown here surrounded by ‘dancing’ ECM chemicals (highlighted in green), this neuron (red) thrives. Researchers find the fastest jiving molecules work best, perhaps because they match up with the neurons’ chemical receptors, tiny arm-like proteins on the cell surface that move with the intensity of a flamenco flourish (although a billion times smaller and 1000 times faster). In the future, maturing neurons in this way may be several quick steps towards transplants to treat ageing-related illnesses like ALS.
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