A new type of nerve cell found in the brain

December 21, 2012
A new type of nerve cell found in the brain
Neurons affected by dysfunctional thyroid. Copyright: Mittag et al.

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues in Germany and the Netherlands, have identified a previously unknown group of nerve cells in the brain. The nerve cells regulate cardiovascular functions such as heart rhythm and blood pressure. It is hoped that the discovery, which is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, will be significant in the long term in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases in humans.

The scientists have managed to identify in mice a previously totally unknown group of nerve cells in the brain. These nerve cells, also known as 'neurons', develop in the brain with the aid of , which is produced in the . Patients in whom the function of the thyroid gland is disturbed and who therefore produce too much or too little thyroid hormone, thus risk developing problems with these . This in turn has an effect on the function of the heart, leading to cardiovascular disease.

It is well-known that patients with untreated hyperthyroidism (too high a production of thyroid hormone) or hypothyroidism (too low a production of thyroid hormone) often develop heart problems. It has previously been believed that this was solely a result of the hormone affecting the heart directly. The new study, however, shows that thyroid hormone also affects the heart indirectly, through the newly discovered neurons.

"This discovery opens the possibility of a completely new way of combating cardiovascular disease", says Jens Mittag, group leader at the Department of at Karolinska Institutet. "If we learn how to control these neurons, we will be able to treat certain cardiovascular problems like hypertension through the brain. This is, however, still far in the future. A more immediate conclusion is that it is of utmost importance to identify and treat pregnant women with hypothyroidism, since their low level of thyroid hormone may harm the production of these neurons in the foetus, and this may in the long run cause cardiovascular disorders in the offspring."

Explore further: Mild thyroid dysfunction in early pregnancy linked to serious complications

More information: 'Thyroid hormone is required for hypothalamic neurons regulating cardiovascular functions', Jens Mittag, David J. Lyons, Johan Sällström, Milica Vujovic, Susi Dudazy-Gralla, Amy Warner, Karin Wallis, Anneke Alkemade, Kristina Nordström, Hannah Monyer, Christian Broberger, Anders Arner and Björn Vennström, Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013;123(1), online 21 December 2012, doi:10.1172/JCI65252

Related Stories

New cause of thyroid hormone deficiency discovered

November 12, 2012

International researchers, including a team at McGill University, have discovered a new cause for thyroid hormone deficiency, or hypothyroidism. This common endocrine disorder is typically caused by problems of the thyroid ...

Thyroid problems linked to irregular heart rhythm

November 28, 2012

People with an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) carry a greater risk of developing irregular heart rhythm (known as atrial fibrillation) than those with normal thyroid function, finds a study published on BMJ today.

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


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.