Transplanting healthy human glial cells - which provide structural support for nerve cells in the brain - into mouse models of Huntington’s disease (HD) improved motor coordination and extended life span in the mice, reports a study published online this week in Nature Communications.
Glial cells, the most abundant cell types in the central nervous system, have received little attention in studies of HD, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder characterized by gradual loss of the nerve cells that control movement, emotions and thoughts.
Steven Goldman and colleagues transplanted human glial cells into the brains of 16 to 91 mice across several experiments. When they transplanted human glial cells carrying the disease-causing gene mutation into healthy newborn mice, they found that these mice showed HD-like symptoms, such as poor motor coordination, when they reached adulthood. On the other hand, when they transplanted healthy human glial cells into newborn R6/2 mice - a mouse model that mimics HD in humans - their motor performance and cognitive functions were significantly improved and they lived longer.
This study suggests that glial cells may play a much more active role in HD than previously thought, thus offering a new perspective for understanding and potentially treating HD. Future studies are needed to further dissect glial dysfunction in HD, and to assess if and how these findings can be translated into treatment for humans.