OHSU researchers discover role of glial cells in regulating neuron development

Illustration of developing neurons

This illustration shows how the interaction of glial cells and BDNF promote or inhibit the development of neurons.

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.”

Read the full paper.

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Comments

  1. Way to go! Interesting research and we all hope you find a cure for SIDS. I noticed last week when falling asleep my arm twitches relative to my neck relaxing into sleep; my guess is an autonomic reflex launches at the point of sleep, and relaxation of the neck involves a queue to the arm, to make the arm “twitch ready”; that is, if my head is going to topple me over as I relax into sleep, (the surrender of my head to gravity) my arm is made ready and able to catch me. Natural selection would choose for a “system of protection as sleep overtakes us”. Is it possible the same types of autonomic reflexes are not working correctly in SIDS babies? Possible that paralysis from neck injury could be restored by convincing arm muscles they need to be ready for sleep? or need to stop sleeping?

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