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"This is an indication that these cells are doing a lot more than just helping neurons maintain their activity," says Professor Terrence Sejnowski, head of Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory and senior author of the new work. "It suggests that they're actually playing an important role in how information is transmitted and stored in the brain."
The brain's neurons rely on speedy electrical signals to communicate throughout the brain and release neurotransmitters, but astrocytes instead generate signals of calcium and release substances known as gliotransmitters, some of them chemically similar to neurotransmitters. The classical view was that astrocytes' function was mostly to provide support to the more active neurons, helping transport nutrients, clean up molecular debris, and hold neurons in place. Only more recently, researchers have found that they might play other, more active, roles in the brain through the release of gliotransmitters but these remain largely mysterious.
Sejnowski - Salk - António - Pinto-Duarte - Colleagues
In 2014, Sejnowski, Salk postdoctoral researcher António Pinto-Duarte and their colleagues showed that disabling the release of gliotransmitters in astrocytes turned down a type of electrical rhythm known as a gamma oscillation, important for cognitive skills. In that study, when the researchers tested the learning and memory skills of mice with disabled astrocytes, they found deficits that were restricted to their capacity to discriminate novelty.
In the new study, Sejnowski's team looked for the first time at the longer-term memory of mice with disrupted astrocytes. They used genetically engineered animals lacking a receptor called type 2 inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3R2), which astrocytes rely on to release calcium for communication.
Researchers - Mice - Types - Learning - Memory
The researchers tested the mice with three different types of learning and memory challenges, including interacting with a novel object and finding the exit in a maze. In each case, mice lacking IP3R2 showed the same ability to learn as normal mice. Moreover, when tested in the 24-48 hours...
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