The end result showed mice who scored much better on tests of learning and memory

Wisconsin researchers have used human embryonic stem cells to heal a damaged part of the brain in mice and restore their use of memory.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, led by Su-Chun Zhang, have transformed the human embryonic stem cells into functional nerve cells -- which restored the ability to learn and remember in mice.

To do this, the research team used mice with damage to the medial septum, which connects to the hippocampus by GABA and cholinergic neurons and affects our ability to learn or remember. The mice were also a special kind, which are incapable of rejecting transplants from other species.

They then used chemicals (which encourage development into nerve cells) to culture the human embryonic stem cells in the lab. The cells started to differentiate into two types of neural cells (GABA and cholinergic neurons), and those were injected as intermediate cells. From there, the cells were directed through partial specialization to prevent the development of unwanted cell types and they were placed in the hippocampus.

After the transplant, the cells started to specialize and connect to the correct cells in the hippocampus as the brain doled out chemical directions.

The end result showed mice that scored much better on tests of learning and memory. For instance, there was a water maze test where they had to remember the location of a hidden platform within a pool.

"Cholinergic neurons are involved in Alzheimer's and Down syndrome, but GABA neurons are involved in many additional disorders, including schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression and addiction," said Zhang.

This means that this research could one day be used to treat -- or even cure -- medical conditions in the brain. 

Source: Eurekalert

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