Scientists give invisible cells a new look

With a new grant, a Picower Institute team is studying the role of astrocytes, which may partner with neurons to process information in the brain.

In this image of a mouse visual cortex, astrocytes (stained red) appear about as abundant as neurons (green).
In this image of a mouse visual cortex, astrocytes (stained red) appear about as abundant as neurons (green). Image courtesy of Rodrigo Garcia/Picower Institute

Neurons are the superstar in cerebrum science, yet MIT specialists trust they don’t work alone to process data.

In new research subsidized by a $1.9 million allow from the National Institutes of Health, a group at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory is attempting to reveal the feasible significant part of a supporting cast part with a stellar-sounding name: the astrocyte. The work could at last give understanding into numerous mind issue.

Astrocytes are in any event as inexhaustible in the  cerebrum as neurons, but since they don’t spike with electrical driving forces like neurons do, they’ve basically been “imperceptible” in investigations of how mind circuits to process data, says Mriganka Sur, the Newton Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and executive of the Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT. Astrocytes have rather been acknowledged generally to shuttle different particles and particles around to keep the mind’s natural chemistry adjusted and working.

Astrocytes' role in information processing in the brain is being studied by researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
Astrocytes’ role in information processing in the brain is being studied by researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
Image courtesy of Rodrigo Garcia/Picower Institute

While they don’t spike, astrocytes do flag their movement with increments of calcium. 10 years back in Science, Sur and associates utilized that understanding to find that astrocyte action in the visual cortex, the piece of the cerebrum that procedures vision, coordinated in bolt advance with the movement of neurons in light of visual boosts. That recommended that astrocytes influence an essential commitment to vision to handling.

In the new examination, Sur’s lab will research precisely what astrocytes are doing, for example, to direct the arrangement of neural associations called neurotransmitters and how the calcium movement emerges and what improvement that action makes. They’ll look over the span of typical vision, as well as amid the basic time frame ahead of schedule in life when vision is first creating.

Utilizing modern and exact imaging apparatuses, Sur’s group will screen astrocyte and neuron action in the visual cortex as mice see diverse boosts. They’ll additionally utilize hereditary and pharmaceutical instruments to control astrocyte movement. A key instrument that is likely included, Sur says, is the way astrocytes convey a particle called GLT1 to control the level and time course of the neurotransmitter glutamate.

Glutamate is fundamental since it intervenes correspondence between neurons crosswise over neurotransmitters. By efficiently controlling the GLT1 action of astrocytes in the visual cortex and estimating the impacts, Sur says, the group will have the capacity to decide how astrocytes add to the execution and arrangement of neural circuits.

Mriganka Sur, the Newton Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain said, “Just as neurons have their spiking code, we think there is an astrocyte calcium code that reflects and works in partnership with neurons. That’s totally underappreciated but very important.”

The outcomes will matter for something other than vision, Sur says. The visual cortex is an ideal model framework in which to work, he says, however astrocytes are additionally accepted to be imperative, if ineffectively comprehended, in disarranges as colossal as Alzheimer’s sickness and formative issue, for example, schizophrenia and a mental imbalance.

Sur said, “Astrocytes are emerging as a major player because disorders of brain development have genetic origins. Genes expressed in astrocytes are emerging as very important risk factors for autism and schizophrenia.”