Cells originally believed to be no more than support for neurons have been getting a second-look lately, and a recent study suggests they may be critical to a fundamental bodily function: breathing. The finding, published online today (July 15) by linkurl:Science,;http://www.sciencemag.org/ further expands scientists' vague understanding how astrocytes -- glial cells in the brain named for their star-shape -- function in the brain, and offers a new way to investigate disorders associated with respiratory failure, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Karin Pierre, Institut de Physiologie,
UNIL, Lausanne

Wikimedia Commons
"This shows us that we are far from understanding the complexity of the brain," said linkurl:Cendra Agulhon,;http://www.med.unc.edu/pharm/news/faculty-news/dr-ken-mccarthys-lab-publishes-in-science a researcher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who recently published a linkurl:controversial paper;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57202/ suggesting astrocytes don't play a role in neural transmission. "The more we learn, the more we add layers of complexity." Glial cells outnumber neurons by...
A.V. Gourine et al. "Astrocytes control breathing through pH-dependent release of ATP," Science, published online July 15, 2010, doi:10.1126/science.1190721.

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