Scientists have identified a means to detect neural progenitor cells, which can develop into neurons and other nervous system cells, in the human brain using an imaging method called
magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). The discovery could pave the way for improved diagnosis and treatment for depression, Parkinson's disease, brain tumors, and other brain-related disorders.
Scientists used a technique related to MRS to compare the signals of NPCs from embryonic mice to those of neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Astrocytes and oligondendrocytes are non-neuronal cells common in the brain. The researchers found that NPCs showed a specific signal that was not as common in other cell types. The researchers then developed a signal processing method that allowed them to separate the marker from other signals in the
living brain. After transplanting NPCs into the cortex of the adult rat brain, scientists found that they could clearly detect the marker in the area where the NPCs were injected.
Research has shown that in select brain regions, NPCs persist into adulthood and could give rise to new neurons. Studies have suggested that the development of new neurons from NPCs, called neurogenesis, is disrupted in disorders ranging from depression and schizophrenia to Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and cancer.