UW researchers discover a recipe to regenerate retinal cells in mice
BY ALAN BOYLE
University of Washington researchers have discovered a way to activate cells in the retinas of adult mice to turn into new neurons – a recipe that eventually could lead to new treatments for human eyes damaged by trauma and disease.
UW biologist Tom Reh, one of the authors of a research paper on the experiments published by the journal Nature, said it’s too early to talk about cures – but not too early to talk about hope.
He told GeekWire that the newly published work on cell conversion complements different approaches that rely on cell transplants.
“I hope that one or the other approach starts to deliver results to patients in the near term,” he said. “We’re working really hard every day to make this work for people.”
Making it work for mice was hard enough: Mammalian eyes typically have little capacity for retinal regeneration. However, it’s common to see such regeneration among species of fish, frogs and newts.
To see whether the trick could be transferred to mammals, Reh and his colleagues zeroed in on a gene called Ascl1. The gene codes for a type of protein called a transcription factor, which serves as a switch to turn on other genes involved in cellular function.
In zebrafish, Ascl1 turns on a process that converts glial cells – cells that typically play only a supporting role for neurons – into actual neurons. “They turn into stem cells once the neurons are damaged, and the stem cells turn into neurons, and that fixes the problem,” Reh explained.
The researchers used a viral gene-swapping technique to give their test mice the version of the Ascl1 gene that works so well in zebrafish. Then they gave the mice a variety of drugs to determine the best way to activate the gene.
Initial experiments produced a recipe that involved tamoxifen and tetracycline, but that recipe worked only during the first couple of weeks of a mouse’s life. For the new round of experiments described in Nature, Reh and his colleagues added another drug, trichostatin-A, which is known as a histone deacetylase inhibitor…..
Source: Geek Wire