Astrocyte brain cells have an unexpected role in brain 'plasticity'

on 20 October 2018
Astrocytes line up with the stars

Scientists discover an unexpected role in very important star-shaped glial cells, called astrocytes, and brain plasticity, the brain's ability to change and make new connections and build new networks, essentially the ever-evolving development of memory and behaviour . . . 

Your future is in the stars!

Astrocytes play an important role in the developing stages of the young infant brain but decrease over time and seemingly play an important role in the brain throughout our lives, in that, their quality and abundance are implicated, to a certain degree, towards the ageing process. This study shows that genetic modification could make significant progress in the way these cells function in our brains. While the research is in its nascent stages, it may be worth noting the effects of chronic stress on the way in which astrocytes function. An area of the brain that it affects is the hippocampus and is suggested as being instrumental in the causation of hippocampal shrinkage. Apart from its role in memory and spatial awareness/orientation, the hippocampus connects to many other areas of the brain, specifically those relating to stressful situations. The brain holds in memory the necessary associations of specific sensory stimuli involved in an emotionally challenging experience. The brain, which constantly scans our environment (in a stress context), responds emotionally when each sensory signal meets relative and specific criteria thus initiating the memory and consequently, the stress response.

The way paint shops mix paint these days is analogous to this process. The mixer codes in the colour and the computer injects specific pigments into a neutral base paint. When the right amount of each pigment (sensory stimuli) is present, you end up with the ingredients that equal the colour you want (memory/emotion); it does what it says on the tin!

So, while the scientists explore this discovery further, be on the safe side and protect your astrocytes from the scavenging effects of chronic stress with hypnotherapy!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of dysregulation of the neurotransmission in and across the brain (tantamount to mind). So it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous language patterns, one that helps us create calm relaxing states that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life!

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Researchers have shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known. The findings could point to ways to restore connections that have been lost due to ageing or trauma.

When we're born, our brains have a great deal of flexibility. Having this flexibility to grow and change gives the immature brain the ability to adapt to new experiences and organise its interconnecting web of neural circuits. As we age, this quality, called "plasticity," becomes lesser.

In a study published October 18, 2018, in Neuron, a team from the Salk Institute has shown that astrocytes -- long-overlooked supportive cells in the brain -- help to enable the brain's plasticity, a new role for astrocytes that was not previously known. The findings could point to ways to restore connections that have been lost due to ageing or trauma.

"We knew from our previous work that astrocytes are important for the development of the brain; however, we knew very little about the role of astrocytes in the adult brain," says Nicola Allen, assistant professor, and the study's senior author. "To investigate this role, we used a lot of techniques in the lab to identify a signal made by astrocytes that is very important for brain maturation."

The signal turned out to be a protein astrocytes secrete called Chrdl1, which increases the number and maturity of connections between nerve cells, enabling the stabilization of neural connections and circuits once they finish developing.

To further understand the role of Chrdl1, the team developed mouse models with the gene disabled by introduced mutations. These mice had a level of plasticity in their brains that was much higher than normal. Adult mice with the Chrdl1 mutation had brain plasticity that looked very much like that of young mice, whose brains are still in the early stages of development.

"It's important to study brain plasticity because it teaches us how the brain remodels itself in response to new experiences," says first author Elena Blanco-Suarez, a research associate in Allen's lab. "Although some degree of plasticity is important, it decreases as we become older. Nature has designed these circuits to become more stable and less flexible. Otherwise, our brains would not mature and we would experience our whole life as a young child does."

Not much is known about the role of Chrdl1 in humans, but one study of a family with a Chrdl1 mutation showed they performed extremely well in memory tests. Other studies have shown the level of the gene encoding Chrdl1 is altered in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, suggesting that Chrdl1 may have important roles in both health and disease.

Future research by the team will dive deeper into the relationships between astrocytes and neurons and look for potential ways to use astrocytes as therapy.

"We're interested in learning more about what the astrocytes are secreting into the brain environment and how those signals affect the brain," says Allen. "We plan to look at this relationship both early in development and in situations where those connections are lost and you want to stimulate repair, like after someone has had a stroke."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Salk InstituteNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elena Blanco-Suarez, Tong-Fei Liu, Alex Kopelevich, Nicola J. Allen. Astrocyte-Secreted Chordin-like 1 Drives Synapse Maturation and Limits Plasticity by Increasing Synaptic GluA2 AMPA ReceptorsNeuron, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.09.04

Cite This Page:

Salk Institute. "Brain cells called astrocytes have an unexpected role in brain 'plasticity': Researchers show protein made by astrocytes enables the brain's maturation and regulates its flexibility." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2018.