Friday, 1 February 2013

Zebrafish stem cells turned into cone cells

Researchers from the University of Alberta have discovered that the zebrafish's stem cells have the capacity to selectively differentiate into one of the two types of photoreceptor cells, cone cells. The study has implications for future stem cell therapies for treating human damaged cones.

Ted Allison, the study's corresponding author, says that previously published studies have indicated that, unlike humans, the zebrafish's stem cells have the capacity to differentiate into photoreptor cells thus regenerating damaged photoreceptor tissue. There are two types of photoreptor cells, cone cells and rod cells. In most species, rod cells are responsible for night vision whereas cones are responsible for color vision.

Image of a cone cell
Anatomy of a cone cell
Allison says that their animal study shows, for the first time, that it is possible to selectively coach stem cells into becoming cone cells whereas previous studies in rodents had success in only creating rod cells. The researchers believe that there may be a strong link between the retina's microenviroment and the finally stem-cell derived photoreceptor cell. For instance, rodents are primarily nocturnal animals and thus have greater amounts of rods whereas the eyes of Zebrafish are richer in cone cells.

The research team believes that their study gives some hope in one day creating a stem cell therapy for cone regeneration, thus restoring day-time vision.

Cone cells (cones) are photoreceptor cells in the eye's retina. They are mainly responsible for color vision, giving their best under bright light conditions.

Rod cells (rods) are the second type of photoreceptor cells found in the retina. They function in little light conditions and are primarily responsible for night vision.

Image of a rod cell
Anatomy of a rod cell

Explanatory video about Rod and Cone cells

Fraser B, Duval MG, Wang H, & Allison WT (2013). Regeneration of cone photoreceptors when cell ablation is primarily restricted to a particular cone subtype. PloS one, 8 (1) PMID: 23383182

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