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A person who suffers from Parkinson’s disease has a depletion of dopaminergic neurons. As a result there is a lack of dopamine in the body, which causes chronic and progressive symptoms including tremors, stiff muscles, and slow movement.

Dr. Anita Hall, Department of Live Sciences, Imperial College, London, and colleagues, used mouse models to examine the early stages of brain formation. They knew that dopaminergic neurons cells produce and use the chemical dopamine to communicate with surrounding neurons. Researchers found that dopaminergic neurons are created by precursor cells identified as ‘radial glia-like cells’.

The importance of dopaminergic neurons, researchers found, is that they are created when a particular type of cell in the embryonic brain divides during the early stages of brain development in the womb. These radial glia-like cells contain all the information needed to create and support the young dopamine-producing neurons, which are essential for important human functions including motor activity, cognition, and some behaviors.

Halls suggest that these glia-like cells could be used to grow new neurons in the lab. Of course further research is needed before such a complex procedure of transplanting the cells into humans becomes clinically possible.