Bipolar Disorder Stem Cell Study Opens Doors To Potential New Treatments

Posted: March 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Image Caption: These colorful neurons, seen forming connections to one another across synapses, were grown from induced pluripotent stem cells -- ones that were derived from skin cells taken from people with bipolar disorder. New research shows they act, and react to the bipolar drug lithium, differently from neurons derived from people without bipolar disorder. Credit: University of Michigan Pluripotent Stem Cell Research Lab

[ Watch the Video: First Stem Cell Study of Bipolar Disorder Yields Promising Results ]

April Flowers for Your Universe Online

Bipolar disorder affects 200 million people globally, and yet there are so many questions surrounding the condition. Why are individuals with bipolar disorder prone to manic highs and deep, depressed lows? If there is no single gene to blame, why does bipolar disorder run so strongly in families? And why, with the enormous number of people suffering from bipolar disorder, is it so hard to find new treatments?

A new study from the University of Michigan Medical School, funded by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, reveals that the answers might actually be found within our stem cells.

To derive the first-ever stem cell lines specific to bipolar disorder, the research team used skin from individuals who suffer from the condition. They transformed these cells into neurons, similar to those found in the brain, then compared them to cells derived from people without the disorder.

Very specific differences in how these neurons behave and communicate with each other were revealed by the comparison, which also identified striking differences in how the neurons respond to lithium, the most common treatment for bipolar disorder.

This study represents the first time researchers have directly measured differences in brain cell formation and function between individuals with and without bipolar disorder.

The type of stem cells used for this study are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The team coaxed the sample cells to turn into stem cells that held the potential to become any type of cell by exposing the small samples of skin cells to carefully controlled conditions. Further coaxing turned the iPSCs into neurons.

This gives us a model that we can use to examine how cells behave as they develop into neurons. Already, we see that cells from people with bipolar disorder are different in how often they express certain genes, how they differentiate into neurons, how they communicate, and how they respond to lithium, says Sue OShea, Ph.D., an experienced U-M stem cell specialist.

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Bipolar Disorder Stem Cell Study Opens Doors To Potential New Treatments

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