Protein called CD49f identifies astrocytes allowing study of their potential role in brain disease
To function properly, neurons need the help of supporting glial cells, including the star-shaped astrocytes (pictured), which generally maintain the right environment for neural signalling. More than just support staff, growing evidence suggests that astrocytes also play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, so understanding how they work and why they malfunction is critical. Researchers recently found a new way to identify astrocytes in cell cultures derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), making it easier to study human astrocytes in the laboratory. They isolated astrocytes by targeting a novel cell surface marker, CD49f, then demonstrated that these cultured cells can carry out typical astrocyte functions, including stimulating neurons. Most importantly, these hiPSC-derived astrocytes became dysfunctional and even toxic to neurons when exposed to signals of inflammation, offering new insights into how astrocytes might be involved in neurodegenerative diseases, and new opportunities to explore this problem.
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