Scientists under the leadership of the University of Bonn have harnessed rabies viruses for assessing the connectivity of nerve cell transplants: coupled with a green fluorescent protein, the viruses show where replacement cells engrafted into mouse brains have connected to the host neural network. A clearing procedure which turns the brain into a “glass-like state” and light sheet fluorescence microscopy are used to visualize host-graft connections in a whole-brain preparation. The approach opens exciting prospects for predicting and optimizing the ability of neural transplants to functionally integrate into a host nervous system. The results were published online on January 19, 2017 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Whole-Brain 3D Mapping of Human Neural Transplant Innervation.” Many diseases and injuries result in a loss of nerve cells. Scientists are working on tackling this challenge by transplanting neurons. In Parkinson’s disease, for instance, this is attempted with implanted dopamine-producing nerve cells. The key question for such techniques is whether the implanted cells actually connect with the existing neural network of the host brain and thus compensate the functional loss. “Previous methods only provided an incomplete or very small-scale insight into the functional integration of implanted neurons in the brain,” says Professor Oliver Brüstle from the Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn and LIFE & BRAIN GmbH.
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