A collaborative team of researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have carried out an extensive analysis of the spatial distribution of the brain cells that ensure the correct functioning of the neurons.
The research contradicts previous theories which suggest that astrocytes devour amyloid plaques
Contrary to previous studies, their research has shown that the cells, known as astrocytes, appeared to be repelled by amyloid plaques, which are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s, rather than attracted to them. Many of the treatments for Alzheimer’s which are currently under development are based on the theory that astrocytes migrate and devour amyloid plaques, and therefore these treatments aim to help the astrocytes to do this. However, this new research turns this approach on its head.
The team used mathematical techniques to understand the relation of astrocytes and plaques
This new research aimed to find out more about the interactions between the astrocytes and the amyloid plaques by borrowing mathematical techniques usually used by physicists to understand the evolution of the galaxies. By analysing 3-dimensional images of the astrocytes contained in the brains of mice models of Alzheimer’s, they found that the astrocytes both repelled each other and were repelled by the amyloid plaques. This was quite a surprise to the team as it contradicted the assumptions of other Alzheimer’s research; instead of astrocytes moving towards the amyloid plaques and consuming them, they move away from them.
An important finding for the development of future therapies for Alzheimer’s
Nevertheless, the researchers do concede that astrocytes do play a part, and that as amyloid plaque are formed the astrocytes produce more of their specific protein. This suggests that they react to the formation of plaques by changing their function rather than position. As one of the lead researchers, Elena Galea concludes, perhaps the most important outcome of this study is that it contradicts the assumptions made by previous studies into the causes of Alzheimer’s. Being able to clarify the relationship between the cells and plaques is vital for developing effective therapies.
The research was published in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Looking for a job within the Neurological conditions care industry? See our Careers page for exclusive job opportunities at some of the best care facilities.