Aberrant cerebellar Purkinje cell function repaired in vivo by fusion with infiltrating bone marrow-derived cells

Kevin C. Kemp*, Rimi Dey, Johan Verhagen, Neil J. Scolding, Maria M. Usowicz, Alastair Wilkins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
345 Downloads (Pure)


Bone marrow-derived cells are known to infiltrate the adult brain and fuse with cerebellar Purkinje cells. Histological observations that such heterotypic cell fusion events are substantially more frequent following cerebellar injury suggest they could have a role in the protection of mature brain neurons. To date, the possibility that cell fusion can preserve or restore the structure and function of adult brain neurons has not been directly addressed; indeed, though frequently suggested, the possibility of benefit has always been rather speculative. Here we report, for the first time, that fusion of a bone marrow-derived cell with a neuron in vivo, in the mature brain, results in the formation of a spontaneously firing neuron. Notably, we also provide evidence supporting the concept that heterotypic cell fusion acts as a biological mechanism to repair pathological changes in Purkinje cell structure and electrophysiology. We induced chronic central nervous system inflammation in chimeric mice expressing bone marrow cells tagged with enhanced green fluorescent protein. Subsequent in-depth histological analysis revealed significant Purkinje cell injury. In addition, there was an increased incidence of cell fusion between bone marrow-derived cells and Purkinje cells, revealed as enhanced green fluorescent protein-expressing binucleate heterokaryons. These fused cells resembled healthy Purkinje cells in their morphology, soma size, ability to synthesize the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, and synaptic innervation from neighbouring cells. Extracellular recording of spontaneous firing ex vivo revealed a shift in the predominant mode of firing of non-fused Purkinje cells in the context of cerebellar inflammation. By contrast, the firing patterns of fused Purkinje cells were the same as in healthy control cerebellum, indicating that fusion of bone marrow-derived cells with Purkinje cells mitigated the effects of cell injury on electrical activity. Together, our histological and electrophysiological results provide novel fundamental insights into physiological processes by which nerve cells are protected in adult life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907–921
Number of pages15
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Issue number6
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Mar 2018


  • Bone marrow-derived cells
  • Cerebellum
  • Fusion
  • Inflammation
  • Purkinje cells


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