• Astrocytes are glial cells that outnumber neurons, five folds. Even though neuroscientists know they play a crucial role in the CNS their exact function remains a mystery.
  • Recent research shows that these cells have an influence on the brain’s reward system.
  • Furthering the scientific knowledge about these cells may help in the treatment of certain neural conditions or even addiction.
About the Research

This study about astrocytes comes from the New University of Minnesota Medical School. The article Dopamine-Evoked Synaptic Regulation in the Nucleus Accumbens Requires Astrocyte Activity is available through the journal Neuron.

Astrocytes and the Brains Reward System

Neuroscientists knew that astrocytes are support cells that play a role in the central nervous system (CNS). However, they were not given the proper research attention and scientific knowledge about their function remains obscure. Furthermore, the fact that they are more numerous than the neurons is also suggestive of their importance for proper brain function.

Researchers from the New University want to uncover what exactly the star-shaped glial cells do in the CNS. For this purpose, they use lab mice in order to look at how the brain reacts to amphetamine. That is, how the drug influences dopamine production and therefore the body’s reward system. But their main concern was not the response of the reward system as a whole but of the astrocytes.

Through this experiment, they show that the astrocytes react to the amphetamine by producing calcium in the nucleus accumbent. The mentioned region of the brain is important as it is one of the major reward centers. Not only that, astrocytes react in the same way when they are stimulated by dopamine (the body’s natural reward neurotransmitter). That is, the experiment shows that the stare-shaped cells have an important role in dopamine signaling.

Because of this, the researchers speculate that the “star cells” may also influence the onset of addiction. However, the exact metabolic mechanisms under which this occurs remain a mystery.

For more details about astrocytes and their role in the CNS we suggest you check out the article at the following link.

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  • Even though the role of astrocytes in the CNS is now clearer more research is required.