Dopamine in The Brain Functions As A Handbrake On Stem Cell Activity!
A team of researchers at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden have conducted a study on Salamander brain and in the process discovered an unknown function of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Salamanders belong to the frog family and are famous for their ability to regenerate entire lost body parts.
They discovered that dopamine acts as a control switch for stem cells and regulates the formation of new nerve cells or neurons in the place of damaged ones in adult brains.
According to Dr Andras Simon, the lead author of the study, the results obtained in this study can help in designing new treatment strategies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Death of dopamine producing cells in the mid-brain leads to Parkinson’s disease.
Salamanders were chosen as model animals in this study, because they have the ability to recover completely from a condition such as Parkinson’s within a month’s time unlike mammals.
As the experiment progressed and the salamanders were in the process of regenerating the killed dopamine producing neurons, researchers tried to observe what is helping the salamander brains to detect the absence of these particular neurons.
It has been an unsolved puzzle to the researchers as to what triggers the formation of new nerve cells and what stops them once the exact number of cells needed are produced.
Researchers were able to get an answer for these questions through this study.
They found out that the stem cells in the brain were activated and formed new neurons as soon as the levels of dopamine dropped indicating dopamine’s role of a control switch in this process.
When the salamanders were injected with L-dopa, a drug given to Parkinson’s patients, which gets converted to dopamine in the brain, the regeneration of dopamine producing neurons stopped and their recovery was hindered. On the other hand, if dopamine production is blocked, new nerve cells are born unnecessarily.
According to Dr Simon, one option they now have is to trigger the stem cells to produce lost neurons in Parkinson’s patients. However, before that they also need to look into the affects of L-dopa on stem cells production.