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Apr 16

Research Bit: How do astrocytes sculpt synaptic circuits?

Research Bits
The Packard Center welcomed Cagla Eroglu from Duke University to a recent Investigator's meeting.

Date: April 16, 2021

Presenter: Cagla Eroglu, PhD

Talk Title: How do astrocytes sculpt synaptic circuits?

What was the question being asked?

What role do astrocytes play in helping to form and maintain synapses? How does the back-and-forth interaction between astrocytes and neurons lead to changes in both cells?

Why is this important for ALS research?

One of the main physiological changes that occurs in the progression of ALS is the loss of neuromuscular synapses, or the connections between motor neurons and muscles. When these two types of cells no longer connect, we can no longer control our muscles. Thus, identifying ways to keep these synapses healthy is a viable way to prevent the progression of ALS. Dr. Eroglu’s outstanding work to study the fundamental role of astrocytes in this process is important so therapies can be designed around “supporting astrocytes to support neurons.”

What was the take-home message?

With astrocytes in the visual cortex, mice that were raised in a dark environment have fewer complex astrocytes than mice raised in environments with light. This indicates a strong effect of neuronal activity on the development and structure of astrocytes. Additionally, astrocytes heavily rely on the structure of neurons to determine how complex their own structures should be. Interestingly, astrocytes can form complex structures around live or dead neurons, as long as the neuronal structure is intact. This is due to specific molecules that exist on the outside of neurons.

How do you think the results of this study might impact future approaches to the treatment of ALS?

It is abundantly clear from recent global work that while ALS primarily affects neurons, other cells in the central nervous system may be useful in preventing neurodegeneration. Dr. Eroglu’s work demonstrates an important step forward in identifying how astrocyte structure and complexity is determined throughout mammalian life. This may allow future work to engineer complex, helpful astrocytes in the context of disease to halt or reverse the loss of neuromuscular connections.

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