APR 05, 2018 7:35 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 over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 06, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Using Biology as Technology: A Paradigm Shift
MAY 06, 2021
Using Biology as Technology: A Paradigm Shift
Digital networks have changed the world by integrating into almost every aspect of our lives, but they have yet to direc ...
APR 29, 2021
Microbiology
Cell Atlas Helps Explain the Deadly Nature of SARS-CoV-2
APR 29, 2021
Cell Atlas Helps Explain the Deadly Nature of SARS-CoV-2
For over a year now, scientists and clinicians have been trying to understand why the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes such deadl ...
MAY 19, 2021
Health & Medicine
Who Ages Better, Men or Women?
MAY 19, 2021
Who Ages Better, Men or Women?
The answer depends on what's considered more important – quantity or quality of years?  Previous studies ...
MAY 21, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Oxygen Conditions Needed for Emergence of Complex Life Discovered
MAY 21, 2021
Oxygen Conditions Needed for Emergence of Complex Life Discovered
For some time, scientists have supported the ‘Oxygen Control Hypothesis’. The theory states that higher leve ...
MAY 23, 2021
Microbiology
Move Over Bacteria, Make Way for Protists
MAY 23, 2021
Move Over Bacteria, Make Way for Protists
In the world of microbes, organisms like viruses and bacteria get a lot of attention. But researchers are beginning to s ...
JUN 06, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
How Autism-Associated Mutations in One Gene Impact the Brain
JUN 06, 2021
How Autism-Associated Mutations in One Gene Impact the Brain
Autism spectrum disorder is complex; it presents differently in different patients and may be influenced by many factors ...
Loading Comments...