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New research may have circumvented the study of nutrients in brains, which previously was restricted to postmortem or non-human tissue.

A research team based in Brazil has analyzed human brain organoids—also called a minibrain—by synchrotron radiation, a sort of X-ray that allows the identification of the atomic composition of micronutrients.

This technique consists of exciting tissue samples in order to quantify the unique photon signature of each atom. The researchers saw by doing this how phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc are distributed during brain formation.

Simone Cardoso, associate professor at the Institute of Physics at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said the study will allow scientists a new ability to research the brain.

"This allows us to gather a wide range of scientific expertise to plan and perform the experiments,” Cardoso said in a statement.

Human brain organoids—tiny tridimensional structures created from human cells in vitro—help scientists understand the dynamics of nutrients during neurodevelopment.

According to the study, recent advances in stem cell biology have enabled recapitulation of the early stages of human telencephalon development in vitro.

The minibrains used in the study were up to 45 days old, while the researchers described the distribution of nutrients in two different stages of development—an initial one of intense cellular proliferation in day 30 and a second time point when the cells start to become neurons and organize themselves into layers on day 45.

The results show that the concentration and distribution of micronutrients are directly related to the stage of development, which is similar to previous data obtained from postmortem brain samples.

It is well known that a mothers’ diet during pregnancy has long-term effects on fetal development and the observed nutrients are essential for the appropriate formation of the brain.

The lack of some of the nutrients during prenatal development is also related to memory deficits and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.

Stevens Rehen, the principal investigator of the study and a researcher working at the D' Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) and at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, explained the importance of the study.

“This study reinforces how important minibrains can be as a model to investigate several aspects of brain development,” Rehen said in a statement.

The study was done at IDOR, in collaboration with researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Physics, both at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS). Funding was provided by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES); Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (FINEP); National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq); Foundation for Research Support in the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ); Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and LNLS.

The study was published in PeerJ.

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