Stem Cells and Bipolar Disorder. The new research was conducted in 2014 with stem cells. Published by scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School and supported by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, could help scientists find answers to these questions:
- What makes a person bipolar, prone to periods of euphoria and deep depressive episodes?
- Why does bipolar disorder exist so strongly in some families, even though a single gene cannot be blamed?
- Why is it so challenging to find new treatments for a condition that affects 200 million people worldwide?
Stem Cells and Bipolar Disorder
The Study The team used skin samples from individuals with bipolar disorder to obtain the first lines of stem cells specific to this condition. In an article published in Translational Psychiatry, the researchers report how they transformed stem cells into neurons. Similar to those found in the brain. They compared these neurons with cells derived from individuals without bipolar disorder. The comparison revealed particular differences in the behavior and communication of these neurons. It also identified surprising differences in how the neurons respond to lithium. This is the most common compound used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. This is the first time that scientists have directly measured the differences in the formation and functioning of brain cells between individuals with bipolar disorder and those without.
Stem Cells as a Window to Bipolar Disorder.
The team used a type of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Scientists took small skin cell samples and exposed them to carefully controlled conditions to induce them to become stem cells, which can become any cell. They then caused them to become neurons. “This gives us a model that we can use to examine how cells behave as they develop into neurons. And we already see that cells from individuals with bipolar disorder are different in terms of how often they express certain genes, how they differentiate into neurons, how they communicate, and how they respond to lithium,” said Sue O’Shea, the experienced stem cell specialist from the University of Michigan who co-led the work.
“For example, we could test new drugs on these cells to find proactive treatments rather than discovering them by chance.”Melvin McInnis
This research could bring the treatment of bipolar disorder into the era of personalized medicine. The skin samples were used to derive forty-two iPSC lines. When the team measured gene expression first in the stem cells, specific differences emerged. They then reevaluated the cells once they had become neurons, highlighting distinctions between cells derived from patients with bipolar disorder and those without the condition. Specifically, bipolar neurons expressed more genes for membrane receptors and ion channels than non-bipolar cells. Particularly, these genes were related to the transmission of calcium signals between cells.
Stem Cells and Bipolar Disorder It is already known that calcium signals are crucial for the development and function of neurons. Therefore, the new findings support the idea that early expressed genetic differences in brain development play a significant role in the development of bipolar disorder symptoms. These differences also contribute to other mental health conditions that arise later in life, especially during adolescence and youth.
The information, says Melvin McInnis, from the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, can be used to test new candidate drugs on these cells, to proactively identify potential medications instead of having to discover them by chance. It is possible, he continues, that the treatment of bipolar disorder can enter the era of “personalized medicine.”
The researchers are already developing stem cell lines from other participants in the bipolar disorder trial, although it takes months to derive each line and obtain mature neurons that can be studied.
We invite you to learn more by reading our article “Stem Cells and Depression.”