OHSU researchers Jessica Martin, Ph.D., Alexandra Brown, and Agnieszka Balkowiec, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator and associate professor of integrative biosciences in the School of Dentistry, have discovered the importance of glial cells in regulating the growth of brainstem neurons. Until now, glial cells had been thought to play a peripheral role in regulating the neurons that control blood pressure and breathing. This new research, published in Neuroscience, shows that glial cells actually play a significant role in inhibiting nerve cell growth, and that there is interaction between glial cells and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the regulation of brainstem dendritogenesis.
This is an important finding because previous research indicates that increased numbers of glial cells are common in babies who suffer from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to Dr. Balkowiec: “Based on the results of our new study, the increase in glial cells in SIDS babies could be the cause of a compromised growth of brainstem neurons that control the cardiorespiratory function and, ultimately, cause death.”