Discovery of brain cell that combines traits of two others

  • 2 Min To Read
  • 8 months ago

A new type of brain cell has been discovered, called a glutamatergic astrocyte, which could provide insight into the development of neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease. Typically, brain cells are categorized into neurons and glia, with neurons communicating across synapses and glia using a different signaling method. However, two decades ago, researchers discovered that some glia could also use synaptic-like transmission to communicate. This finding was met with controversy, but a recent study has confirmed the presence of glia that can participate in synaptic transmission.

Using data on gene production in mouse cells, researchers found clusters of astrocytes in the hippocampus region of the brain that appeared to possess the ability to engage in synaptic transmission. These cells released the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. The researchers referred to these cells as glutamatergic astrocytes and found similar protein signatures in non-neuronal cells in humans.

The purpose of glia communicating via synaptic transmission is still unclear, but researchers speculate that it may lead to better signal coordination. Astrocytes can be in contact with thousands to millions of synapses, allowing signals to spread in a more coordinated manner. These cells are also found in brain circuits involved in movement, which degenerate in Parkinson's disease. Understanding these cells could potentially provide valuable insights into treating the condition.

While the exact prevalence of these cells in the brain is unknown, further research in this area could shed light on the development of neurodegenerative conditions and potentially lead to new treatment strategies. The discovery of these glutamatergic astrocytes highlights the complexity and intricacy of brain cells and their communication methods.


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