Star-Shaped Brain Cells Prove To Be Surprisingly Important Players In Our Body Clock

Posted: Mar 27 2017, 12:54pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Star-Shaped Brain Cells Prove to be Surprisingly Important Players in Our Body Clock
  • Astrocytes keep time for brain, behavior

Scientists have found that the brain cells thought to have no function whatsoever may serve as synchrononic meters.

Many brain cells that were once thought to be occupying space for the sake of occupying space have a function after all. They could actually be playing a vital role in the circadian rhythms of the brain.

Astrocytes are actually glial cells. These glial cells are the brick and mortar of the nervous system. They provide the gum for the neurons and thus hold the whole brain in its place.

The latest studies show that these cells may be aiding the inner body clock. Scientists have held our inner clock as being dealt with by the suprechiasmatic nuclei (SCN).

This brain area is located in the hypothalamus. It consists of 20,000 neurons. 6000 star-like astrocytes exist in the region. Their function has never been explained until now.

The free control of astrocytes in mice is what a group of scientists has managed to accomplish recently. Via dealing with the astrocytes, the lab animals’ sense of time was altered or rather retarded. The scientists didn’t know that the astrocytes would play such a huge role in synchronicity.

The SCN was once thought to regulate the circadian rhythms. Yet now scientists know that many cells distributed throughout the body have their circadian clocks.

These include the cells of the lungs, liver and heart. Other organs are included in the list on a partial basis. In 2005, it was found that astrocytes included these clock genes.

Via an isolation method, the brain cells from the mice were linked to a bioluminescent protein. They shone intermittently and kept time with other cells. More than 10 years was the time period it took scientists to find out how to measure astrocyte behavior in a living being.

CRISPR technology was used to accomplish this feat. A clock gene called Bmal1 in the astrocytes of the mice was eliminated. When scientists let Nature have its own way, a mouse’s circadian clock lasted about 23.7 hours.

Even in darkness the mice followed this internal synchronic pacemaker of sorts. The same is found in human beings as well. They follow the 24 hour mark with a few minutes that go amiss.

The human circadian rhythm works in accordance with a cycle of 24 hours and 11 minutes. When the clock gene was deleted, the animals lost all sense of rhythm. The internal clocks also slowed down. The astrocytes tend to dictate the rhythms in the brain and behavioral repertoires of the lab mice.

The findings of this research got published in the journal Current Biology.

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