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Scientists discover new type of brain cell

10 May 2017
Stemformatics assembled data from different regions in the zebrafish brain

Australian and Japanese researchers have discovered a new type of brain cell by studying tropical freshwater zebrafish. These cells, which act as ‘scavengers’ in the brain mopping up potentially damaging cellular waste, are also found in humans and may provide protection against neurological diseases.

Led by University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Ben Hogan, this unexpected fundamental discovery published in Nature Neuroscience will help scientists understand more about how the brain forms and functions.

These ‘scavenger’ cells appear to be able to collect and remove waste that enters the brain from the bloodstream sharing similarities with cells of lymphatic system - the circulatory network that removes toxins, waste and other unwanted materials form organs but has not previously been observed within the brain.

The study involved researchers from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Monash University, Japan’s National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Centre and the University of Melbourne.

Describing her group’s role in the research, Professor Christine Wells from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Stem Cell Systems and Stem Cells Australia said, “We were delighted to participate in the computational aspects of this study”.

The Stemformatics team, of which she heads, assembled data from different cell types and structures in the zebrafish brain, and used this to benchmark the cells captured by the Hogan laboratory and in doing so proved that these were a truly unique cell type.

“The research highlights just how important the availability of high quality public data is to facilitating the discovery and characterisation of new cell types”. 

Stemformatics.org hosts more than 8000 high quality, curated samples, with an intuitive visualisation interface designed for rapid exploration of public stem cell and associated tissue datasets.

This is the latest in a number of important scientific discoveries made with the assistance of the Stemformatics stem cell atlas.

The next step for the researchers is to investigate how these cells function in humans and see if we can control them with existing drugs to promote brain health, and improve our understanding of neurological diseases such as stroke and dementia.

The National Health and Medical Research Council and UQ funded the research with Stemformatics supported by Stem Cells Australia, an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative.

For more information:

Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/nn.4558)

Scientists surprised to discover lymphatic ‘scavenger’ brain cells (2 May 2017)