APR 05, 2018 07:35 PM PDT

New Tool Shows Brain Cells in Action

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Astrocytes are a special type of brain cell; shaped like stars, they are thought to have a critical role in the development of several neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington ’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases. Now researchers at UCLA have created a new technique for observing these cells in real time, while they remain deep within the brain of a living mouse. The work, reported in Neuron, will help investigators see how astrocytes impact communication between nerve cells. 

An astrocyte (green) interacts with a synapse (red), producing an optical signal (yellow). / Credit:UCLA/Khakh lab

"We're now able to see how astrocytes and synapses make physical contact and determine how these connections change in disorders like Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease," explained the lead author of the work, Baljit Khakh, a professor of physiology and neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "What we learn could open up new strategies for treating those diseases, for example, by identifying cellular interactions that support normal brain function."

Brain tissue is made up of several kinds of cells, and it can be challenging to model that system. For many years, researchers have been trying to understand how the tendrils that grow off of astrocytes impact synapses, where neurons meet and communicate with one another. The UCLA investigators have addressed this issue.

With their new method, various colors of light go through a lens and magnify tiny objects the can’t be seen with the naked eye, and are much smaller than what scientists could see with previous techniques. Now, astrocytes and how they interact with synapses is observable in mouse models of health and disease.

"We know that astrocytes play a major role in how the brain works and also influence disease," noted first author Chris Octeau, a postdoctoral fellow the Khakh lab. "But exactly how the cells accomplish these tasks has remained murky."

Scientists will now be able to work towards answering important questions in brain disease about cellular behavior. 

"This new tool makes possible experiments that we have been wanting to perform for many years," added Khakh, a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute. "For example, we can now observe how brain damage alters the way that astrocytes interact with neurons and develop strategies to address these changes."


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via UCLA, Neuron

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 29, 2018
Neuroscience
OCT 29, 2018
Did we get blindsided about the role of cerebellum?
Cerebellum play a mjor role in higher -order brain functions beyond the motor specific functioning...
NOV 01, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 01, 2018
Researchers Link Parkinson's Disease and the Appendix
When a person's appendix is removed early in life, it reduces their chances of getting Parkinson's disease....
NOV 03, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 03, 2018
Stopping a Jumping Gene Invasion
Researchers have found that stem cells can react when transposons invade the genome....
NOV 05, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 05, 2018
Using Imaging to Understand Cancer Growth
Most types of cells in our body go through a critical renewal process in which cells divide into two new ones. But it can get out of control as well....
NOV 21, 2018
Immunology
NOV 21, 2018
HIV Persisting How?
A team of researchers have identified an HIV reservoir...
NOV 24, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 24, 2018
How Fish can Teach us About Mending a Broken Heart
Our world hosts some incredible organisms, some of which might help people create treatments for disease....
Loading Comments...