Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report that they have identified a protein that allows for the production of norepinephrine neurons from stem cells, a development that has significant implications for research in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease and other psychiatric and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Stem-cell-derived norepinephrine neurons are found in a region of the brain called locus coeruleus and are believed to play a role in the development of AD and Parkinson’s. The new research was published recently in Nature Biotechnology.
Researchers on the project were Yunlong Tao, now an investigator at Nanjing University in China who was a research professor at UW–Madison’s Waisman Center when the study was performed, along with Su-Chun Zhang, a UW–Madison professor of neuroscience and neurology. The researchers call the newly created cells LC-NE neurons and say they could be a valuable new tool for research into ways to treat neurodegenerative diseases.
They note that norepinephrine neurons in the locus coeruleus held regulate heartbeat, blood pressure, arousal, memory, attention and the fight-or-flight response. Humans house around 50,000 of these LC-NE neurons in the hindbrain and from here they reach throughout the brain and spinal cord.