Washington: Scientists claim to have found evidence that gene therapy -- the method to help injured brain cells survive and regrow -- can also alter shape of cells.
An international team, led by Prof Alan Harvey at the University of Western Australia, has published its findings in the latest edition of the 'PLoS One' journal.
Prof Harvey said, "Our previous work has shown that when growth-promoting genes are introduced into injured brain cells for long periods of time (up to nine months), the cells' capacity for survival and regeneration is increased.”
"We have now shown that these same neurons have also changed shape in response to persistent over-expression of the growth factors. Importantly, it is not just neurons containing the introduced growth-promoting gene that are affected, but neighbouring 'bystander' neurons," he said.
According to the scientists, neural morphology was very important in determining how a cell communicated with other cells and formed the circuits that allowed the brain to function.
"Any changes in morphology are therefore likely to alter the way neurons receive and transmit information. These changes may be beneficial but could also interfere with normal brain circuits, reducing the benefits of improved survival and regeneration," Prof Harvey said.
According to the scientists, the results were significant for those involved in designing gene therapy-based protocols to treat brain and spinal cord injury and degeneration.
"These new results suggest that we may need to be careful about the types of genes we use in neurotherapy and how long we continue the therapy. While it may be beneficial for these genes to move around and cause changes in other cells, we need to be able to switch them off once the change has taken place," he said.