Researchers have shown for the first time that the adult brain has cells capable of repairing damage caused by diseases.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Auckland hope the study may leave to new treatments for neurological conditions such as Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.
The study demonstrated that the adult human brain produces an increased number of new cells in the subependymal layer.
Professor Richard Faull, of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University, explained that the subependymal layer is adjacent to the caudate nucleus – the part of the brain that is most severely affected by Huntington’s:
"Our findings suggest that these immature cells are proliferating in response to degeneration in the caudate nucleus, and are probably migrating towards the damaged area of the brain. We do not know what triggers this cellular activity – but it is clear that the increased number of new cells is insufficient to compensate for the progressive cell loss observed in brains affected by Huntington’s diseases".
The discovery has important implications for the future development of effective, targeted treatments for patients, according to Professor Faull.
"Our findings point to the possibility of a treatment being developed that would stimulate the growth and development of these new cells, and their migration to the damaged area of the brain. If this could be achieved, then the rate of cell loss may be slowed and the patient’s condition may improve.
"The discovery that the diseased adult brain is capable of cellular regeneration will be of major relevance for the development of therapeutic approaches in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases."