Nav: Home

The brain needs to 'clean itself up' so that it can 'sort itself out'

May 31, 2016

When neurons die, their remains need to be eliminated quickly so that the surrounding brain tissue can continue functioning. A type of highly specialised cell known as microglia is responsible for this process which is called phagocytosis (derived from the Greek "phagein", to eat, and "kitos", cell). These tiny cells have numerous branches that are constantly on the move inside the brain and are specially equipped to detect and destroy any foreign element, including dead neurons. Or that is what has been believed until now.

In this study, which has just been published by the journal PLoS Biology, the process of neuronal death and microglial phagocytosis in the diseased brain has been studied for the first time. To do this, brain samples taken from epilepsy patients at the University Hospital of Cruces and from epileptic mice were used.

Neurons are known to die during the convulsions associated with epilepsy. But contrary to expectations, in this condition the microglia are "blind" and incapable of either finding them or destroying them. Their behaviour is abnormal. And the dead neurons that cannot be eliminated build up and damage the neighbouring neurons further, which leads to an inflammatory response by the brain which harms and damages it even further.

This discovery opens up a new channel for exploring therapies that could palliate the effects of brain diseases. In fact, the research group that authored this work is right now exploring the development of drugs to encourage this cleaning up process, phagocytosis, that could help in the treatment of epilepsy patients.

The study was led by Dr Amanda Sierra, head of the Glial Cell Biology laboratory of the Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience, and the experimental work was conducted mainly by the researchers Oihane Abiega, Sol Beccari and Irune Díaz-Aparicio. Other Achucarro and UPV/EHU researchers such as Juan Manuel Encinas, Jorge Valero, Víctor Sánchez-Zafra and Iñaki París also participated in it.
-end-
This piece of international research was coordinated from the Basque Country and had the participation of research groups from CIC bioGUNE (Derio), the University of Bordeaux (France), the University of Southampton (UK), Université Laval (Canada), and the Baylor College of Medicine (USA).

Bibliographical reference:

O Abiega et al. "Neuronal hyperactivity disturbs ATP microgradients, impairs microglial motility, and reduces phagocytic receptor expression triggering apoptosis/microglial phagocytosis uncoupling" PLoS Biol 14(5): e1002466. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002466

University of the Basque Country

Related Neurons Articles:

New tool to identify and control neurons
One of the big challenges in the Neuroscience field is to understand how connections and communications trigger our behavior.
Neurons that regenerate, neurons that die
In a new study published in Neuron, investigators report on a transcription factor that they have found that can help certain neurons regenerate, while simultaneously killing others.
How neurons use crowdsourcing to make decisions
When many individual neurons collect data, how do they reach a unanimous decision?
Neurons can learn temporal patterns
Individual neurons can learn not only single responses to a particular signal, but also a series of reactions at precisely timed intervals.
A turbo engine for tracing neurons
Putting a turbo engine into an old car gives it an entirely new life -- suddenly it can go further, faster.
Brain neurons help keep track of time
Turning the theory of how the human brain perceives time on its head, a novel analysis in mice reveals that dopamine neuron activity plays a key role in judgment of time, slowing down the internal clock.
During infancy, neurons are still finding their places
Researchers have identified a large population of previously unrecognized young neurons that migrate in the human brain during the first few months of life, contributing to the expansion of the frontal lobe, a region important for social behavior and executive function.
How many types of neurons are there in the brain?
For decades, scientists have struggled to develop a comprehensive census of cell types in the brain.
Molecular body guards for neurons
In the brain, patterns of neural activity are perfectly balanced.
Engineering researchers use laser to 'weld' neurons
University of Alberta researchers have developed a method of connecting neurons, using ultrashort laser pulses -- a breakthrough technique that opens the door to new medical research and treatment opportunities.

Related Neurons Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".