Nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C in order to function properly — a surprising discovery that may mean vitamin C is required elsewhere in the brain for its proper functioning, according to a study by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
"We found that cells in the retina need to be 'bathed' in relatively high doses of vitamin C, inside and out, to function properly," said Henrique von Gersdorff, Ph.D., a senior scientist at OHSU's Vollum Institute and a co-author of the study. "Because the retina is part of the central nervous system, this suggests there's likely an important role for vitamin C throughout our brains, to a degree we had not realized before."
The brain has special receptors, called GABA-type receptors, that help modulate the rapid communication between cells in the brain. GABA receptors in the brain act as an inhibitory "brake" on excitatory neurons in the brain. The OHSU researchers found that these GABA-type receptors in the retinal cells stopped functioning properly when vitamin C was removed.
Because retinal cells are a kind of very accessible brain cell, it's likely that GABA receptors elsewhere in the brain also require vitamin C to function properly, von Gersdorff said. And because vitamin C is a major natural antioxidant, it may be that it essentially 'preserves' the receptors and cells from premature breakdown, von Gersdorff said.
The function of vitamin C in the brain is not well understood. In fact, when the human body is deprived of vitamin C, the vitamin stays in the brain longer than anyplace else in the body. "Perhaps the brain is the last place you want to lose vitamin C," von Gersdorff said. The findings also may offer a clue as to why scurvy — which results from a severe lack of vitamin C — acts the way it does, von Gersdorff said. One of the common symptoms of scurvy is depression, and that may come from the lack of vitamin C in the brain.
The findings could have implications for other diseases, like glaucoma and epilepsy. Both conditions are caused by the dysfunction of nerve cells in the retina and brain that become over excited in part because GABA receptors may not be functioning properly.
"For example, maybe a vitamin C-rich diet could be neuroprotective for the retina — for people who are especially prone to glaucoma," von Gersdorff said. "This is speculative and there is much to learn. But this research provides some important insights and will lead to the generation of new hypotheses and potential treatment strategies."
Scientists and students in von Gerdorff's lab in OHSU's Vollum Institute are dedicated to basic neuroscience research. The vitamin C research work was done using goldfish retinas, which have the same overall biological structure as human retinas.
The retina research work was done by Ph.D. student Evan Vickers, working as part of the von Gersdorff lab. The work was in collaboration with Cecilia Calero in the lab of Dr. Daniel J. Calvo from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Gustavo Cid and Luis Aguayo from the University of Concepcion, Chile.
The work was funded by the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnicas (Argentina), the Pew Foundation, the International Brain Research Organization and the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
The study was published online in the June 29 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, which is the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.
About the Vollum Institute
The Vollum Institute is dedicated to basic research focusing on gene regulation, structural biology, cell signaling, molecular neuroscience and synaptic modulation with implications for human diseases ranging from autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, psychiatric diseases and mechanisms of drug addiction.
Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university and Oregon's only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government). OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.
Todd Murphy | EurekAlert!
How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism
19.01.2018 | Weill Cornell Medicine
Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system
17.01.2018 | Duke University Medical Center
Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.
Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
23.01.2018 | Life Sciences
23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy