Oxysterol activates a receptor that promotes creation of these nerve cells, according to a study in Cell Stem Cell.

Oxysterol, a derivative of cholesterol, is necessary for the formation of brain cells, according to a study conducted by Karolinska Institutet. The team believes that the results may help scientists cultivate dopamine-producing cells outside the body.

Dopamine-producing nerve cells play an important part in many brain functions and processes, from motor skills to reward systems and dependency. They are also the type of cells that die in Parkinson’s disease.

The Karolinska research demonstrated that the formation of dopamine-producing neurons during brain development in mice is dependent on the activation of a specific receptor in the brain by oxysterol, which is an oxidized form of cholesterol. The scientists also showed that embryonic stem cells cultivated in the laboratory form more dopamine-producing nerve cells if they are treated with oxidized cholesterol. The same treatment also reduced the tendency of the stem cells to show uncontrolled growth.

The details appear in a paper titled “Liver X Receptors and oxysterols promote ventral midbrain neurogenesis in vivo and in human embryonic stem cells” published in the October 2 issue of Cell Stem Cell.

“Oxysterol contributes to a safer and better cultivation of dopamine-producing cells, which is a great advancement, since it increases the possibility of developing new treatments for Parkinson’s disease,” says study leader Ernest Arenas, M.D., Ph.D.

It is hoped that one day it will be possible to replace dead cells in the brains of Parkinson’s patients with transplanted cultivated dopamine-producing cells. Such cells may also be used to test new Parkinson’s drugs.

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