Gift-giving brain cells are lifeline to injured nerve cells | Science News

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Gift-giving brain cells are lifeline to injured nerve cells

Astrocytes share energy-making mitochondria with neural neighbors

By
7:00am, July 29, 2016
astrocytes

GIFT GIVER  Star-shaped astrocytes (green) may donate mitochondria to nerve cells in distress, helping the brain escape damage from stroke and possibly other maladies, a new study suggests. 

Under duress, nerve cells get a little help from their friends. Brain cells called astrocytes send their own energy-producing mitochondria to struggling nerve cells. Those gifts may help the neurons rebound after injuries such as strokes, scientists propose in the July 28 Nature.

It was known that astrocytes — star-shaped glial cells that, among other jobs, support neurons — take in and dispose of neurons’ discarded mitochondria. Now it turns out that mitochondria can move the other way, too. This astrocyte-to-neuron transfer is surprising, says neuroscientist Jarek Aronowski of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “Bottom line: It’s sort of shocking.”

Study coauthor Eng Lo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School cautions that the work is at a very early stage. But he hopes that a deeper understanding

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