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Crayfish Blood Cells Tansform Into Neurons


08.12.14 Sophie Weiner

It’s very difficult for humans to create new neurons. They can only be formed from embryonic stem cells, which are hard to come by. Not so for crayfish, which scientists have found can create new neurons out of regular blood cells. These are used to replenish their “eyestalks and smell circuits.” Yes, those are real crayfish body parts. Don’t roll your eyestalks at us. 

In crustaceans like crayfish, an area called the “niche” below the brain is used to grow new neurons to repair damaged nerves. New Scientist explains:

In crayfish, blood cells are attracted to the niche. On any given day, there are a hundred or so cells in this area. Each cell will split into two daughter cells, precursors to full neurons, both of which migrate out of the niche. Those that are destined to be part of the olfactory system head to two clumps of nerves in the brain called clusters 9 and 10. It’s there that the final stage of producing new smell neurons is completed.

Scientist Barbara Beltz of Wellesley College conducted an experiment to test this hypothesis. She labeled crayfish blood cells with dye to see if they would make the predicted journey. They did: 

Three days after transfusion, the label showed up in cells in the niche. Seven days later it was at the base of clusters 9 and 10. And seven weeks after transfusion the labelled cells were producing neurotransmitters, the chemicals that neurons use to communicate with each other.

In the future, these discoveries could impact the treatment of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s. (Photo: Coniferconifer)