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.
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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