Scientist Find that Ayahuasca Stimulates Birth of New Brain Cells

Spirit Vine August 2016

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Earlier this month at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelics Research 2016 in Amsterdam, Dr Jordi Riba from the San Pau Hospital in Barcelona presented the groundbreaking results of their latest research; the first study ever conducted that demonstrates that components of the traditional Ayahuasca brew possess potent neurogenic properties. The study was conducted within the framework of the Beckley/San Pau Research Programme and in collaborative effort with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). These findings have yet to be published.

The team consisted of CSIC researchers Jose Morales-Garcia, Maria Isabel Rodriguez-Franco, Ana Pérez-Castillo and Mario de la Fuente Revenga. They found that the alkaloids harmine and tetrahydroharmine, the most abundant alkaloids of the Ayahuasca brew, stimulate the growth and maturation of neurons and promotes their birth from the stem cells, a discovery that definitively squashes some of the time-worn preconceptions of the adult brain.

For years, it was believed that no new neurons are produced in the brain of an adult. It was not until the late 1990s that experimental evidence began challenging this preconception, demonstrating that the birth of new neurons, a process known as neurogenesis, occurs in two regions of the brain: the area surrounding the ventricles and in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a pivotal role in essential cognitive tasks such as learning and memory. The function of the hippocampus naturally declines throughout the aging process, even more so in those with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease and other dementias.

Although the results of this latest study are preliminary, they conclusively demonstrate that the addition of harmine and tetrahydroharmine to cultures of cells that contain neural stem cells dramatically increases the rate at which they differentiate and mature into neurons. Additional studies are now being devised and conducted in order to discern the magnitude of the initial results.

A successful replication of these findings in VIVO could open up an entirely new avenue of Ayahuasca research regarding its physiological and psychological interactions with the brain. “Potential applications would range from treating neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, to redressing brain damage associated with stroke or trauma,” says Amanda Feilding, co-director of the Beckley/Sant Pau Research Programme.

Below, Dr Jordi Riba explores these remarkable findings with the aid of stunning illustrations that demonstrate the neurogenesis observed during the administration of the harmine and tetrahydroharmine alkaloids.

What you are seeing is a “static picture” taken after several days of treatment of the stem cells with the different compounds. No neurons were present prior to the three different tretments: a) saline (water+salt); b) harmine; and c) tetrahydroharmine

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The first image is the control, when only salty water (saline) added to the cell cultures. The nuclei of the stem cells can be seen in blue. These stem cells have been treated with saline for several days and only a few have developed into young neurons (the few green sports in the image).

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The second image shows the results after several days of treatment with harmine: blue is still present because it’s a marker of cell nuclei, and all cells have nuclei (stem cells and neurons). The green spots are the young neurons marked using Tuj1 staining (this staining is specific for “neuron-specific class III beta-tubulin) present in recently created neurons. The red spots show more mature neurons. The staining marks the “microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP-2). Its presence increases during neuron development.

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The third image shows the results obtained after several days of treatment with tetrahydroharmine. The meaning of the colors is the same.

“The images from the Beckley/Sant Pau collaboration showing the birth of new neurons are very interesting and suggest that ayahuasca could lead to a new approach in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others,” says Feilding.