Connections by proteins called connexins between astrocyte brain cells are important for learning and memory
Closing a single station on the London Underground causes chaos across the whole network. And it turns out the same is true for the network of astrocytes – cells in your brain that work alongside neurons to enable complex behaviour and thought. Astrocytes form large networks of connected cells, coupled together by complexes built of proteins called connexins, through which small molecules are exchanged as a form of communication. Researchers have now shown that disabling two key connexins disrupts astrocyte coupling, and this has significant effects on their function. With the network altered (pictured in a mouse brain section), mice showed diminished spatial learning and memory formation. Immune cells of the brain – microglia – were also impacted, and showed changes in their shape reminiscent of alterations seen in patients with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, depression and age-related memory decline, highlighting the importance of astrocytes for maintaining a healthy brain.
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