A team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has found a simple method to create “induced sensory neurons” from human skin cells. These are the specialized neurons that detect pain, itch, touch, and other bodily sensations. They can be affected by spinal cord injury and by Friedreich’s ataxia, a currently incurable neurodegenerative disease that largely strikes children. Researchers expressed hope that the created neurons may be useful in the testing of potential new therapies for pain, itch, and related conditions.
The neurons that can be made with the new technique normally reside in clusters called dorsal root ganglia (DRG) along the outer spine. Because of the difficulties involved in harvesting and culturing adult human neurons, most research on DRG neurons has been done in mice. But mice are of limited use in understanding the human version of this broad “somatosensory” system. In this new approach, the research team used a cell-reprogramming technique to generate human DRG-type sensory neurons from ordinary skin cells called fibroblasts. The team’s findings appear as an advance online publication in the November 24 edition of Nature Neuroscience.
A news story with more detail on the study findings may be read here.