Glial cells aid memory formation

Neurons need non-electrical brain cells known as astrocytes to establish synaptic memory, according to study published this week in Nature. The findings challenge the long-standing belief that this process involves only the activity of the neurons themselves, and bring glial cells onto the center stage in the study of brain activity. An astrocyteImage: Wikimedia commons, NeurorockerThis study shows that while neurotransmitter release and voltage changes at the synapse are important for synapt

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Jan 12, 2010
Neurons need non-electrical brain cells known as astrocytes to establish synaptic memory, according to study published this week in Nature. The findings challenge the long-standing belief that this process involves only the activity of the neurons themselves, and bring glial cells onto the center stage in the study of brain activity.
An astrocyte
Image: Wikimedia commons,
Neurorocker
This study shows that while neurotransmitter release and voltage changes at the synapse are important for synaptic memory formation, "you need the burst from the astrocyte to complete the process," said physiologist linkurl:Andrea Volterra;http://www.unil.ch/fbm/page28867_en.html of the University of Lausanne, who did not participate in the research. "It's very surprising for many people." Astrocytes comprise some 90% of all human brain cells, but because they lack the electrical activity of neurons, they were never really considered to participate in the process of long-term potentiation -- changes in synaptic strength thought to underlie learning...
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