With ethical issues concerning use of discarded embryos and technical problems hindering development of stem cell therapies, scientists in Korea are reporting the first successful use of a drug-like molecule to transform human muscle cells into nerve cells. This advance could lead to new treatments for stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders.
In the study, Injae Shin and colleagues point out that stem cell research shows promise for repairing or replacing damaged nerve cells to treat such diseases. However, many barriers hinder efforts to move those therapies from lab to clinic. The use of "small molecules" -- compounds that include most drugs -- to generate new nerve cells from easily available cells or tissues would provide a more convenient and attractive approach to stem cell therapies, the new study notes.
The researchers exposed immature mouse muscle cells (myoblasts) growing in laboratory cell cultures to neurodazine, a synthetic small molecule. After one week, 40-50 percent of the myoblasts were transformed into cells that resembled both the structure and function of nerve cells, including expression of neuron-specific proteins. Additional studies showed a similar transformation in a group of human skeletal muscle cells that were exposed to the same chemical for several days, they add.
"In conclusion, we have developed the first small molecule that can induce neurogenesis of non-pluripotent myoblasts and the cells derived from mature, human skeletal muscle," the report states. "These studies build upon recent research illustrating the value of chemical approaches for providing tools that differentiate lineage-committed cells into other cell types."
Article: "Synthetic Small Molecules that Induce Neurogenesis in Skeletal Muscle" Journal of the American Chemical Society, August 8, 2007.
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