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Star-Shaped Brain Cells Make Scans Possible
Date:6/19/2008

traditional research methods for monitoring electrical activity, most scientists thought astrocytes did little.

"Electrically, astrocytes are pretty silent," study co-author James Schummers, postdoctoral associate at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said in a prepared statement. "A lot of what we know about neurons is from sticking electrodes in them. We couldn't record from astrocytes, so we ignored them."

The researchers changed this perception by imaging astrocytes with two-photon microscopy. "The first thing we noticed was that the astrocytes were responding to visual stimuli. That took us completely by surprise," Schummers said. "We didn't expect them to do anything at all. Yet there they were, blinking just like neurons were blinking."

"This work shows that astrocytes, which make up 50 percent of the cells in the cortex but whose function was unknown, respond exquisitely to sensory drive, regulate local blood flow in the cortex and even influence neuronal responses," Sur said. "What's more, astrocytes are arranged in orderly feature maps, exquisitely mapped across the cortical surface in sync with neuronal maps."

The MIT researchers next expect to explore exactly how astrocytes work on neurons.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about diagnostic imaging.



-- Kevin McKeever



SOURCE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news release, June 19, 2008


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