Astrocytes are star-shaped cells in the brain and spinal cord that play a role in many functions. Depending on where they are, they oversee things like gluconeogenesis, provide neurons with lactate, regulate ion concentration, repair the nervous system, and generally maintain homeostasis in the brain. Research has shown that disruption to astrocyte function contributes to worsening Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
What Happens In AD?
Some observations that scientists have made about AD is the build-up of amyloid beta protein in the brain. One of the cells responsible for making, regulating, and clearing this protein is the astrocyte. Could Alzheimer’s be caused by changes in astrocyte behavior? Could this build-up of amyloid beta protein lead to even more changes in cell function and cause more inflammation in the brain? And of course, with more inflammation, would we then see more cell damage and even more build-up of amyloid beta protein? And one final question, what exactly causes these changes in astrocytes and how can we prevent it? While there aren’t any definitive answers (yet), scientists believe that this chain of events is why it’s important to study astrocytes in AD patients.
The Problem with Treating AD
It’s hard to treat a problem if you don’t know the specific cause. That’s the issue that scientists and doctors grapple with today when looking at treatments. There have been many suggested therapeutic routes, but until we know the exact relationship between astrocytes, neuroinflammation, and oxidative stress in the brain, it’s hard to come up with a definitive plan. But of course, this hasn’t stopped the scientific community from trying various types of therapy!
What’s Out There
To keep inflammation down in the brain in AD patients, some approaches include phenols, phytoestrogens, and neurosteroids. Other methods specifically target the astrocytes, supporting them with unpronounceable antioxidants such as resveratrol, tocotrienol, anthocyanins, and epicatechin. Whatever the therapy, whether it’s complex or simple, astrocytes always seem to be at the center of the puzzle.
Own An Astrocyte
These star-shaped cells are fascinating, not only in Alzheimer’s research, but in neurology as a whole. In fact, the brain is one complex organ that we still don’t fully understand. After all, the study of brains is simply a bunch of brains trying to figure itself out! You can own our astrocyte necklace and continue to fuel your curiosity towards these unique cells. This piece also makes a great gift for AD researchers, neurologists, neuroscientists, and starry-eyed pre-med students.
written by Science with Evie