Not all astrocytes in the brain are the same, study finds
From afar, the billions of stars in our galaxy look indistinguishable, just as the billions of star-shaped astrocytes in our brains appear the same as each other. But UCLA researchers have now revealed that astrocytes, a type of brain cell that supports and protects neurons, aren ’t all the same. While stars might be categorized by their size, age and heat, the supportive brain cells vary when it comes to shape, molecular machinery and functioning.The findings,published today in the journal Neuron, should make it easier for researchers to study how astrocytes relate to disease, or to develop drugs that aim to target small subsets of astrocytes, said Baljit Khakh, a UCLA professor of physiology and neurobiology and the study’s senior author.“For 50 years, the textbooks have said that astrocytes everywhere in the brain are largely identical,” Khakh said. “We’ve now discovered that astrocytes in different circuits in the brain are different, and we’ve developed a comprehensive toolkit to explore astrocyte biology and diversity. ”Unlike neurons, astrocytes in the brain don ’t directly process information, store memories or control the body’s movements. Instead, astrocytes — which have been described as glue-like — are known to compose the blood-brain barrier, give the brain structure, carry nutrients to neurons, and regulate the concentration of certain molecu les between neurons. They also play a ...
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