New findings that long-overlooked brain cells play an important role in regulating blood flow in the brain call into question one of the basic assumptions underlying todays most sophisticated brain imaging techniques and could open a new frontier when it comes to understanding Alzheimers disease.
In a paper to appear in the February issue of Nature Neuroscience and now available on-line, scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center demonstrate that star-shaped brain cells known as astrocytes play a direct role in controlling blood flow in the brain, a crucial process that allows parts of the brain to burst into activity when needed. The finding is intriguing for a disease like Alzheimers, which has long been considered a disease of brain cells known as neurons, and certainly not astrocytes.
"For many years, astrocytes have been considered mainly as housekeeping cells that help nourish and maintain a healthy environment for neurons. But its turning out that astrocytes may play a central role in many human diseases," said neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., Ph.D., who has produced a string of publications fingering astrocytes in diseases like epilepsy and spinal cord injury.
Tom Rickey | EurekAlert!
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