New type of brain cell discovered that acts like hybrid of two others

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Astrocyte brain cells. Fluorescence light micrograph of primary astrocyte cells from the brain of a mouse. Astrocytes have numerous branches of connective tissue that provide support and nutrition to the neurons (nerve cells) of the brain. Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) is green; cell nuclei are magenta; actin filaments are blue.

Some networks of astrocytes, like these, appear to ship messages very like neurons do


A brand new kind of mind cell, known as a glutamatergic astrocyte, has been found. It might clarify how a wide range of neurodegenerative situations, equivalent to Parkinson’s, develop.

Mind cells can largely be categorised into two sorts: neurons and glia. Neurons are usually thought of to speak with one another throughout the synapses, or junctions, between them, whereas glia don’t use such a signalling.

Synaptic transmission happens when a neuron is electrically excited and releases a chemical, known as a neurotransmitter, into the hole between itself and one other neuron, which results in the activation of the second neuron. This capacity was largely regarded as distinctive to neurons.

However 20 years in the past, Andrea Volterra, now on the College of Lausanne in Switzerland, and his colleagues introduced that that they had found that some glia might additionally use synaptic-like transmission to speak with different cells. Nonetheless, the findings proved controversial as different researchers struggled to copy the findings.

Now, Volterra and a distinct crew have used fashionable methods to lastly put this controversy to mattress.

The researchers analysed information on the manufacturing by genes in mouse cells of RNA molecules, that are intermediates in protein manufacturing, to see if they may discover the protein complexes required for synaptic transmission in cells aside from neurons. The crew particularly checked out cells within the mind’s hippocampus area, as a result of that is the place the earlier analysis claimed to have noticed non-neuronal synaptic transmission.

The evaluation revealed a number of clusters of astrocytes, a kind of glia, that appeared to additionally possess the flexibility to participate in synaptic transmission. The cells appeared to launch the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is the commonest neurotransmitter within the mind. The researchers then confirmed the presence of the genes concerned on this by learning mind slices from grownup mice. The researchers have coined these cells glutamatergic astrocytes.

“These cells are a bit of bit like astrocytes and a bit of bit like neurons,” says Volterra. “They’re secreting neurotransmitters with a mechanism and velocity which can be often solely linked to neurons. It’s why we name it a form of hybrid cell.”

The researchers then used a kind of fluorescent microscopy approach known as two-photon imaging to check glutamate launch by these cells within the brains of the mice. “The indicators that we see are within the order of velocity just like neurons,” says Volterra.

He and his colleagues additionally discovered comparable protein signatures of synaptic transmission in non-neuronal cells in people by present datasets. “The findings recommend that these cells are conserved [in people],” says crew member Ludovic Telley, additionally on the College of Lausanne.

The researchers don’t know what number of of those cells may be discovered within the mind, or if they’re primarily within the hippocampus.

It’s unclear why the mind wants glia that talk through synaptic transmission, says Volterra. He speculates that it might result in a better coordination of indicators. “Usually, we’ve neuronal data that should unfold to bigger ensembles and neurons should not excellent for the coordination of this,” he says. One astrocyte can keep in touch with 100,000 synapses in mice, which might imply the indicators go additional in a extra coordinated trend, he says. They will attain tens of millions of synapses in people.

These cells additionally look like in mind circuits concerned in motion, which degenerate in Parkinson’s illness, says Volterra. A greater understanding of the cells might give us a better perception into the way to sort out the situation, he says.

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