New Research Could Offer Clues into Rare Neuron Linked to bvFTD


New research into rare, spindle-shaped neurons found deep within the brain could have implications for future studies of FTD and other neurodegenerative diseases.

In a study made possible by a donation of brain tissue typically inaccessible to neuroscientists, researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle identified clues about a rare type of brain cell called von Economo neurons (VENs), which are thought to be linked to social intelligence and cognitive health. Loss of the neurons, which are found in one of the deepest layers of the frontoinsular cortex, has been observed in the brains of persons with behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), as well as several other neurological disorders.

“We’re all keenly aware that the tissues we study come from individuals who generously donate part of their brain in what is often an otherwise difficult situation,” Ed Lein, a senior investigator at the Allen Institute, said in a news release. “In this case, the donation has an even higher level of importance and poignancy because these cells are so, so rare.”

The recent findings, published in Nature Communications, offer the first record of electrical spikes from these neurons, and provide new insights into the VENs’ genetic identity and function in the human brain.

While the findings offer important insights, additional research is needed to help scientists better understand the exact function of VENs. In time, unraveling the mystery of these neurons could help lead to therapies for bvFTD and other neurological disorders.

“At this point we’re really in the descriptive phase of understanding these neurons,” Lein said in the release. “There are still many remaining mysteries.”

To read more about the study, click here. Individuals and families who are interested in learning more about brain donation can find information on the AFTD website.

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