University of Cambridge > > BRC Seminar Series > "In Vivo Glia-to-Neuron Conversion For Brain Repair"

"In Vivo Glia-to-Neuron Conversion For Brain Repair"

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Gong Chen Willaman Professor The Pennsylvania State University

Glial scar is widely associated with brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, glioma, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Reactive glia initially exert neuroprotective role but later form glial scar to inhibit neuroregeneration. Currently, there is no effective way to reverse glial scar back to neural tissue. We have recently developed an innovative in vivo cell conversion technology to directly convert reactive glial cells into functional neurons inside the mouse brain (Guo et al., Cell Stem Cell, 2014, selected as BEST of 2014 article). This is achieved through in vivo expression of a single neural transcription factor NeuroD1 in the reactive astrocytes in injured mouse brain or Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Our in vivo cell conversion technology makes use of internal glial cells to regenerate new neurons, making it possible for the first time in history to reverse glial scar back to neural tissue. Such internal cell conversion method will avoid cell transplantation and immune rejection. We have further discovered a cocktail of small molecules that can directly convert cultured human astrocytes into functional neurons (Zhang et al., Cell Stem Cell, 2015), paving the way for a potential drug therapy for human brain repair. We have also successfully converted reactive glial cells into neurons using NeuroD1 in non-human primate brains, making an important step toward future clinical trials.

This project was supported by grants from NIH , Alzheimer’s Association, and Charles H. Skip Smith Endowment Fund. G.C. is Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences at Penn State University.

This talk is part of the BRC Seminar Series series.

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