New research discovers key to survival of brain cells

September 28, 2011

Nicolas G. Bazan, MD, Ph.D, Boyd Professor and Director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, and David Stark, an MD/Ph.D student working in his lab, have discovered how a key chemical neurotransmitter that interacts with two receptors in the brain promotes either normal function or a disease process -- determining whether brain cells live or die. The work is published and highlighted in the September 28, 2011 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

These findings reveal how receptor signaling takes place between receptors of synapses (gaps between neurons through which chemical or pass permitting cells to "talk" to each other) and the mechanisms involved in initiating disease. The receptors, called NMDARs, are located both inside and outside of the synapses. Activation of the NMDRs inside (synaptic) allows the synapse to adjust response to signals and activation of the synaptic NMDRs is also required for survival of the cell. In contrast, activation of the receptors outside the synapse (extrasynaptic) leads to cell death.

The LSUHSC research team believed that activation of the extrasynaptic NMDRs promotes the pathological effects of 2 (COX-2), a protein known to contribute to inflammation associated with . They found that activating the synaptic NMDRs greatly increased levels of COX-2, but not of the chemical (arachidonic acid) upon which COX-2 acts. Conversely, activating the extrasynaptic NMDRs increased the levels of arachidonic acid, but not COX-2. The researchers discovered, however, when synaptic and extrasynaptic NMDARs were sequentially activated, the levels of both COX-2 and arachidonic acid increased, as did neurotoxic inflammation.

"We have discovered a fascinating relationship regarding the "conversations" that occur between these two in the brain," said Dr. Nicolas G. Bazan, Professor and Director, LSUHSC Neuroscience Center of Excellence.

"In this paper, we demonstrate how these signals affect cell functions and how they lead to diseases, including stroke, epilepsy and other neurodegenerative disorders. Targeting mechanisms that couple sequential synaptic then extrasynaptic NMDAR stimulations may lead to new anti-inflammatory/neuroprotective approaches."

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Center for Research Resources, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

"I have a very gifted and talented young MD/Ph.D student in my lab, David Stark, who has a National Institutes of Health award, performed exemplary experiments and co-authored the paper with me," said Dr. Bazan.

Explore further: Study puts a new spin on ibuprofen's actions

Related Stories

Study puts a new spin on ibuprofen's actions

September 25, 2011

Ibuprofen, naproxen, and related non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – the subjects of years of study – still have some secrets to reveal about how they work.

Recommended for you

How even our brains get 'slacker' as we age

October 24, 2016

New research from Newcastle University, UK, in collaboration with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, investigated the way the human brain folds and how this 'cortical folding' changes with age.

How lying takes our brains down a 'slippery slope'

October 24, 2016

Telling small lies desensitises our brains to the associated negative emotions and may encourage us to tell bigger lies in future, reveals new UCL research funded by Wellcome and the Center for Advanced Hindsight.

Robotic tutors for primary school children

October 24, 2016

The use of robotic tutors in primary school classrooms is one step closer according to research recently published in the open access journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.

Mouse decision-making more complex than once thought

October 24, 2016

Working with dot-counting mice running through a virtual-reality maze, scientists from Harvard Medical School have found that in order to navigate space rodent brains rely on a cascade of neural signals that culminate in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.