These colourful structures are human nerve cells, growing and connecting inside a brain. But it’s not a human brain – this a mouse brain, into which human nerve cells have been transplanted. Studying nerve connections inside a living human brain is extremely difficult, but animal models don’t accurately reflect the complexity and molecular makeup of human cells. Researchers have now developed a clever technique to solve the problem: human skin cells are reprogrammed into stem cells, then converted into nerve cells that will grow inside a mouse’s skull. Comparing nerve cells grown from people with the developmental disorder Down syndrome with those from unaffected individuals is providing important new insights into what happens in a healthy brain as it grows and develops and what might be going wrong in Down syndrome. Hopefully, the discoveries from this ingenious approach will lead to future treatments to improve life for people with the condition.
Written by Kat Arney
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.