Researchers have managed to grow adult human neurons in the laboratory for the first time. According to the authors of a study published in Cell Reports, these cells could be used to understand the effect of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) on the brain and might impact treatment of epilepsy in the future. They could also be used to understand how neurons connect with each other by regulating the expression of certain genes.The tissues used in the study, which was led by Dr James Eberwine at the University of Pennsylvania, were donated by seven people who had undergone brain surgery either as a treatment for epilepsy or to remove brain tumours.From these tissues, the researchers identified multiple different types of brain cells, including oligodendrocytes, microglia, endothelial cells, astrocytes and neurons, as well as the proteins that they produce. Of greatest significance was the ability to grow neurons, which had previously been thought impossible.In a press release, Dr Eberwine said: “We were surprised that we could grow these neurons at all. The oldest tissue came from a donor who was in their mid-sixties. This is even more surprising because neurons don’t divide, so they need to last a lifetime. We are finally able to characterize adult aged cells from the most enigmatic organ of the body – the seat of learning and memory, as well as consciousness.”The team identified more than 12,000 genes that were expressed in these various cells, hundreds of which were only expressed in certain cell types. Interestingly, the cells obtained from each donor had a different pattern of gene expression, which caused the authors to comment on “…the importance of taking a personalized medical approach for evaluating and treating each patient”.The age of the people who provided the tissues ranged from 20 to 60 meaning that the cells could also help scientists understand how ageing affects the brain, something that has only been studied in animals so far.Studying neurological conditions such as epilepsy and developing drugs to treat them is challenging. This is the first time that scientists have been able to generate a full range of brain cells, including neurons, from living donors and to use them to study how those cells connect and communicate.Author: Dr Özge ÖzkayaClick here for more articles about brain science including genetics.