Researchers in Singapore have improved the production high quality, functional human inhibitory (‘GABAergic’) neurons in the laboratory, according to a study published in the leading journal Cell.These neurons can now be used to develop models to study epilepsy, as well as other neurological conditions. They can also be used to screen the effects of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) without the need to conduct long and complicated clinical trials in people.In a press release, Senior Author Dr Shawn Je, from Duke-NUS Medical School, said: “Our quick, efficient and easy way to mass produce GABAergic neurons for lab use is a game changer for neuroscience and drug discovery. With increased recognition of the essential role of GABAergic neurons in almost all neurological and psychiatric diseases, we envisage our new method to be widely used to advance research and drug screening.”So far it has been difficult to obtain a consistent supply of mature and functional GABAergic neurons in the laboratory, because the process involves a number complex stages and requires a long time, usually resulting in poor yield.To overcome these problems, Dr Je and his team first identified genetic factors involved in GABAergic neurons development in the brain. They then used different combinations of these factors to try and turn human pluripotent stem cells (immature cells that are able to become one of a number of specialised cell types) into GABAergic neurons in just six to eight weeks. Previously, the time required was between 10 and 30 weeks. The efficiency of this new protocol is also dramatically higher than before, with more than 80% of the stem cells successfully becoming GABAergic neurons .When they transplanted these GABAergic neurons into the brains of mice, the researchers found that they matured and became part of the neuronal circuits in the animals’ brains.GABAergic (inhibitory) neurons are a specialised type of brain cell that ‘dampen’ the activity of neurons. They work with so called ‘excitatory’ neurons, which activate other neurons, to produce a balance of neuronal activity that allows normal brain function. If GABAergic neurons do not work properly, this balance is disrupted, increasing the risk of neurological conditions such as epilepsy.Author: Dr Özge ÖzkayaClick here for more articles about brain science including genetics.