Christian Belief

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Adjustable Brain Cells
Neighboring neurons can manipulate astrocytes.
By Ruth Williams | February 18, 2016

Neurons (magenta) signal to astrocytes (green)
TODD FARMER, MCGILL UNIVERSITY HEALTH CENTRE eurons in the adult mouse brain can shape
N

the features and physiologies of nearby astroglial cells, according to a study published today (February
18) in
Science
. Researchers at McGill University in Montreal and their colleagues have identified a

molecular signal called sonic hedgehog (Shh), secreted by neurons, that acts as the agent of change.
“What’s very exciting about the paper is this notion that a cell’s fate might be determined—after it has already established its morphology and location in the brain—based on interactions with its neighbors,” said neurologist
Ed Ruthazer of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill who was not involved in the research. “And the conversion is not superficial,” he added, “it really does seem to fundamentally reorganize the transcriptome of the cell.”
Astroglia are non­neuronal cells in the central nervous system that generally support and modulate neuronal function. The mammalian brain has an assortment of astrocytes, which perform a variety of specialized functions. This diversity was largely thought to be established during embryogenesis and early postnatal development, said
Keith Murai of McGill who led the new research. “But after that,” he said, “the properties of these cells were thought to be solidified . . . for the rest of their lives.”
Murai and his colleagues had a different view, however. “Some of these [astrocytes] are so specialized around certain neural circuits that it was hard to imagine that all of the properties of these cells could be determined by that point [in development],” he said. After all, the neural circuitry itself isn’t fully…...

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