An inflammatory environment can turn astrocytes, key supportive cells for neurons, into their killers, fostering the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study shows.
This work, led by researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), created for a first time astrocytes derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs). The group then placed these cells in an inflammatory environment, and observed what happened.
“Now that we can create this critical brain cell type from any individual’s stem cells and capture its errant behaviors, we can better understand its role in diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s,” Susan L. Solomon, the CEO of the NYSCF, said in a press release.
“This will shed new light on the devastating process of neurodegeneration, pointing us towards effective treatments for this growing group of patients,” Solomon added.
The study “CD49f Is a Novel Marker of Functional and Reactive Human iPSC-Derived Astrocytes ” was published in the journal Neuron.
Astrocytes compose more than half of the cells of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and work as support cells. They help to maintain brain homeostasis (stable equilibrium), provide neurons with metabolic support, enhance the connectivity of neural circuits, and control the brain’s blood flow.
Yet, these cells are also thought to be key players in the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as MS.
Knowledge on astrocyte biology has mostly come from animal models, namely rodents, since scientists struggle to obtain astrocytes from people.
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