Production of new nerve cells from non-neuronal cells in the injured mouse spinal cord by injection of a lentivirus containing a factor that promotes cell reprogramming is reported in a paper published in Nature Communications. This work may contribute to the development of therapies following spinal cord injury.
Astrocytes are the most common cells in the central nervous system and play supportive roles in the development and function of neurons and in ensuring brain integrity. Injection of a lentivirus that leads to expression of the transcription factor SOX2 in brain astrocytes can convert these into neuroblasts - neuronal precursors - that can then be matured into functional neurons. Chun-Li Zhang and colleagues use this approach immediately after injury of the adult mouse spinal cord to convert resident spinal cord astrocytes into neuroblasts, which generate mature neurons that can form synapses with motor neurons in the spinal cord. The authors can enhance survival and maturation of these neurons by treating the mice with valproic acid, a compound that promotes neuron development. They note, however, that the number of new neurons produced using this approach are low, and whether these new neurons are functional and their synapses active is currently unclear.