New methods to explore astrocyte effects on brain function

This image shows cytosolic GCaMP3 expressed in astrocytes in the hippocampus of adult mice. A JGP study presents new methods to evaluate how astrocytes contribute to brain function and paves the way for future exploration of these important brain cells. Credit: Shigetomi, E., et al. 2013. J. Gen. Physiol. doi:10.1085/jgp.201210949

A study in The Journal of General Physiology presents new methods to evaluate how astrocytes contribute to brain function, paving the way for future exploration of these important brain cells at unprecedented levels of detail.

Astrocytes—the most abundant cell type in the human brain—play crucial roles in brain physiology, which may include modulating synaptic activity and regulating local blood flow. Existing research tools can be used to monitor calcium signals associated with interactions between astrocytes and neurons or blood vessels. Until now, however, astrocytic calcium signals have been investigated mainly in their somata (cell bodies) and large processes, rather than in distal fine processes close to or the endfeet that surround blood vessels. Previous studies have also mainly investigated immature specimens rather than mature .

Now, a team of California researchers provides detailed methods to visualize calcium signals throughout entire astrocytes in hippocampal slices from . The team observed numerous spontaneous localized calcium signals throughout the entire astrocyte, including the branchlets and endfeet. Their results indicated that calcium signals in endfeet were independent of those in somata and occurred more frequently. In addition to the specific findings, their methods can be used in future studies to advance our understanding of the physiology of astrocytes and their interactions with neurons and the microvasculature of the brain.

More information: Shigetomi, E., et al. 2013. J. Gen. Physiol. doi:10.1085/jgp.201210949. Adler, E. 2013. J. Gen. Physiol. doi:10.1085/jgp.201311002

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astrocytes affect brain's information signaling

Jun 14, 2010

Astrocytes are the most common type of cell in the brain and play an important role in the function of neurons - nerve cells. New research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that they are also directly involved ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

2 hours ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

5 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments