Researchers discover new function for nearly half of brain cells

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Tufts University News April 28

Tufts University School of Medicine Medicin researchers discovered a previously unknown new function of astrocytes, which make up nearly half of all cells in the brain.

Scientists say a new function of astrocytes discovered in mice opens up a whole new direction for neuroscience research that could one day lead to treatments from Methods for many diseases, from epilepsy to Alzheimer’s disease to traumatic brain injury.

This comes down to how astrocytes interact with neurons, the basic cells of the brain and nervous system that receive input from the outside world . Neurons transmit information between different areas of the brain and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system through a complex set of electrical and chemical signals.

So far, scientists thought astrocytes were important, but in this A small role in an activity. Astrocytes guide the growth of axons, the elongated neuronal projections that conduct electrical impulses. They also control neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit electrical signals in the brain and nervous system. In addition, astrocytes establish the blood-brain barrier and respond to injury.

But until now, they didn’t seem to be as electrically active as all-important neurons.

Astrocyte electrical activity alters neuron function,” said Chris Dulla, Tufts University School of Medicine and associate professor of neuroscience at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and corresponding author of a paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, “We discovered that two of the most important Because so much is unknown about how the brain works, discovering new fundamental processes that control brain function is key to developing new treatments for neurological diseases.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience on April 28, 2022 (latest impact factor: 24.884)


In addition to Dulla and first author Moritz Armbruster, other authors of the study include Saptarnab Naskar, Mary Sommer, Elliot Kim, and Philip G. Haydon from Tufts University School of Medicine, and Tufts University biomedical graduate students Jacqueline P. Garcia of the Institute’s Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology Program and researchers at other institutions.

Chris Dulla

To make this discovery, the research team used developed a brand new technology, devising a technique that allowed them to see and study the electrical properties of brain cell interactions that were previously unobservable.

“With these new tools, we’ve basically uncovered entirely new aspects of biology,” said Armbruster, assistant professor of neuroscience in the School of Medicine. With the advent of tools — for example, new fluorescence sensors are being developed — we will better understand things we haven’t even thought about before.”

Dulla explained, “This new technology uses light to image electrical activity. Neurons are very active, and the new technology allows us to see that astrocytes are active too. “

Dulla describes astrocytes as “making sure everything is fine in the brain, if something is wrong, if there is damage or a viral infection, they detect arrive, try to respond, and then try to protect the brain from damage. Our next step is to determine how astrocytes change when these injuries occur. ”

neuron-to-neuron communication is Neurotransmitter chemicals. Scientists know that astrocytes control neurotransmitters and help ensure neurons stay healthy and active. But this new study shows that Neurons also release potassium ions, which alter the electrical activity of astrocytes and the way it controls neurotransmitters.

“< strong>So neurons control the behavior of astrocytes, they communicate back and forth. Neurons and astrocytes communicate with each other in an unprecedented way,” he said.

how astrocytes clear this buildup and help maintain excitation balance. “

Researchers are now screening existing drugs to see if they can manipulate the interaction of neurons and astrocytes. By doing this, can we one day help people learn faster and better? Can we repair brain damage when it happens?” Dulla asked.

The new technology used for this discovery does not only open up thinking about astrocytes A new way of cell activity, also provides a new way for brain activity imaging. Until now, there has been no way to image potassium activity in the brain, for example, or to study how potassium is involved in sleep, metabolism, or brain damage and infection. Scientists We’re getting tools to study headaches, breathing, developmental disorders, and a range of different neurological disorders.”

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Source: Tufts University

Tufts University researchers discovered new function performed by nearly half of brain cells


Armbruster, M., Naskar, S., Garcia, J.P. et al. Neuronal activity drives pathway-specific depolarization of peripheral astrocyte processes. Nat Neurosci (2022).


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