Researchers develop way to boost conversion of skin cells into dopamine neurons

A team at the University of Buffalo (UB) researchers has, for the first time, developed a way to boost the conversion of skin cells into dopamine neurons, which are normally hidden in the brain.

The researchers were able to identify and find a way to overcome a key hurdle to such cellular conversions.

According to commentators, the finding had profound implications for changing the way scientists worked with all cells.

The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, centres around the discovery that p53, a transcription factor protein that acted as a gatekeeper protein.

"We found that p53 tries to maintain the status quo in a cell, it guards against changes from one cell type to another," explained Jian Feng, professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

"Once we lowered the expression of p53, then things got interesting: We were able to reprogramme the fibroblasts into neurons much more easily," Jian Feng said.

This was a generic way to change cells from one type to another. "It proves that we can treat the cell as a software system, when we remove the barriers to change," Jian Feng added.

The researchers had carried out multiple experiments to prove that these neurons were functional mid-brain dopaminergic neurons - the type lost in Parkinson's disease.

With the finding, researchers would be able to generate patient-specific neurons in a dish that could then be transplanted into the brain for repairing the faulty neurons.