Researchers from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain Research and ULB have discovered the secret behind slow brain development in people. VIB announced this in a press release on Thursday. It is the mitochondria, the energy factories of cells, that ensure the rapid development of the brain. The researchers’ work has been published in the scientific journal Science.
Compared to other animal species, the human brain takes a long time to develop all neurons. It takes years before they are fully developed, unlike, say, a mouse, where this happens within a few weeks. Previous studies by the VIB research team showed that the timing is controlled by the cells themselves rather than by external factors, but exactly how the process is controlled remains unclear.
The team, led by researchers Ryohei Iwata, Pierre Casimir and Pierre Vanderhaeghen, found that mitochondria play an important role in this process. Mitochondria regulate the metabolism in each cell by converting nutrients such as sugar into energy. Scientists thought mitochondria were the same in every cell, but they found that mitochondria in young human neurons behave differently than those in mouse neurons of the same age: human mitochondria grow much more slowly and their energy metabolism is much less active compared to human neurons . Mouse mitochondria.
Then the scientists continued to work with mitochondria in nerve cells. Neurons are pharmacologically and genetically engineered to enhance mitochondrial function. This accelerated neuronal development: Neurons mature months earlier than normal. Decreased mitochondrial function led to slower neuron growth. This confirmed the suspicion that mitochondria determine the growth rate of neurons.
Study diseases better
“We made the discovery using a newly developed genetic tool that can measure time in developing neurons,” says researcher Iwata. “We also invented a new method for obtaining mature neurons months in advance, which will be very valuable for medical and pharmaceutical research.”
Now that scientists can speed up the maturation of neurons, they can better study how the brain works and model neurological diseases. “Our research can accelerate basic and pharmacological research into human neurological or psychiatric diseases, hitherto greatly hampered by slow neural development,” says researcher Pierre Vanderhagen.
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