First proneural cells bank in Spain for the study of mental illnesses

Mental illnesses affect 25% of the population and in some cases, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression, they can represent one of the main causes of disability worldwide. Researchers from the IMIM Neuroscience Research Programme have created the first proneural cells bank in Spain with the aim of facilitating research in mental illnesses. This resource is available to the scientific community and offers the possibility of obtaining biochemical and molecular information on what happens in the brain through the only accessible proneural cells – also called immature neurons) – which are located in the olfactory neuro-epithelium, found in the upper part of the nasal cavity.

The cells of the olfactory neuroepithelium have the characteristic of being proneuronal, in other words, they will be converted into sensory neurons and be responsible for taking information from the olfactory system to the brain. They are located very close to the brain and permit surrogate access to the brain’s molecular and biochemical information.

One of the successes of this project is the development of a non-invasive technique for the extraction of proneural cells by this research team. The new technique developed at the IMIM extracts the cells with the aid of a small cell scraper designed for this purpose and does not require surgical measures, enabling these cells to be extracted periodically if prognostic monitoring is necessary.

Proneural cells enable biochemical information to be obtained from the human brain without the need for physical  access to it

Heteromers, a new molecular-level marker of mental disorders

The usefulness of this biobank of proneural cells has been confirmed with a recent study that analysed, for the first time in Spain, the formation of heteromers (units of two different receptors) in the proneurons of the olfactory epithelium as indicators of mental illness.

The researchers studied the formation of heteromers in the CB1 cannabinoid and 5HT2A serotonergic receptors in chronic consumers of cannabis and found that their formation was directly related with the consumption of cannabis, and that the more cognitive problems the patient had, the larger the quantity of heteromers found in the proneurons of their olfactory neuroepithelium.

This study enables affirmation that the formation of heteromers in the olfactory cells is a good model for monitoring mental illnesses that involve cognitive alterations. They enable us to see the level of neuronal involvement in patients and their prognosis, and therefore allow us a new diagnostic and prognostic tool for mental illnesses with cognitive deficiencies, these being disorders for which, to date, it has been very difficult to obtain information on a molecular and biochemical level.


Reference article

Galindo L, Moreno E, López F, Guinart D, Cuenca A, Izquierdo-Serra M, Xicota L, Menoyo E, Fernández-Fernández JM, Benítez-King G, Canela EI, Casadó V, Pérez V, de la Torre R, Robledo P*. Cannabis Users Show Enhanced Expression of CB1-5HT2A Receptor Heteromers in Olfactory Neuroepithelium Cells. Mol Neurobiol 2018; 55(8): 6347-6361.



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