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Scientists Discover New Type of Brain Cell with Dual Role in Nerve Function and Support

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An International Team of Scientists Discovers New Type of Brain Cell

An international team of scientists has made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of neuroscience. They have found a new type of brain cell that was previously unknown to researchers. This cell is unique because it shares characteristics of both neurons and the supporting cells that surround them.

Astrocytes: More Than Just Support Cells

Astrocytes, the supporting cells in the brain, have long been thought to be passive cells that solely provide protection to neurons. However, this new study challenges that notion. The researchers found evidence that astrocytes can actively contribute to the function of neurons by secreting glutamate, a key neurotransmitter in the brain.

While laboratory studies have shown that astrocytes can release and absorb glutamate, their role in a living brain is still being investigated. This new discovery of a hybrid stem cell in the brains of mice opens up exciting research possibilities for understanding the functions of astrocytes.

Specialized Astrocytes and their Role in Neuronal Communication

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Using single-cell RNA sequencing, the scientists identified nine different groups of specialized astrocytes in the hippocampus region of the brain. One particular group, known as Cluster 7, stood out because it was concentrated in distinct parts of the hippocampus and possessed the necessary molecular mechanisms for releasing glutamate.

These specialized astrocytes release glutamate at specific “hot spots” that resemble synapses, where neurons communicate by releasing glutamate. It was discovered that these cells modulate neuronal activity by controlling the level of communication and firing of neurons.

Implications for Memory and Brain Diseases

When the astrocyte-like cells were disabled in mice, memory impairment was observed. This finding suggests that these cells play a crucial role in memory processes. Furthermore, the researchers plan to investigate the role of these hybrid cells in brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The discovery of this unique subset of specialized astrocytes offers valuable insights into the complex functions of astrocytes in the central nervous system. It also presents a potential therapeutic target for treating neurological disorders.

This groundbreaking study was published in the prestigious journal Nature.

Source: Science Alert

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