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Hard Science

Process Discovered That Saves Injured Nerve Cells And Helps Prevent Brain Damage

These star-shaped cells shine giving the gift of life to endangered cells.

Charmaine CaparasAugust 2nd 2016
News
LKA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY-SA 3.0)

You Get By With A Little Help 

Here’s another interesting thing about the human body – a new study published in Nature found that, when nerve cells are under duress, their other cell friends help them out.

Scientists say struggling nerve cells get a little help in the form of energy-producing mitochondria from brain cells. These are called astrocytes, star-shaped glial cells which assist neurons in recovering after injuries such as strokes. Astrocytes take in and get rid of neurons’ discarded mitochondria. It produces mitochondria and pushes it out into “the soup that surrounds cells.” During a stroke or when starved of glucose and oxygen, neurons take in the astrocyte-made organelles.

Image: K. HAYAKAWA ET AL/NATURE 2016

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Scientists also found organelles moving into damaged cells in other parts of the body, including the lungs, heart and liver. Neuroscientist Jarek Aronowski of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston says the astrocyte-to-neuron transfer is quite shocking. Nobody knew brain cells could be so magnanimous!

Neurons who received mitochondria fared better in a starvation diet than those without. Researchers also noticed that, without the extra mitochondria to help, the neurons were less resilient to the harsh conditions in the test dishes.

Study coauthor Eng Lo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School says their study is still in its early stages, but he hopes that a deeper understanding of this process might ultimately point out new ways to protect the brain from damage. Still, researchers were able to observe these findings outside of a testing dish. Similar observations were made in lab mice. There is much more research to be done but there could be some pretty exciting implications for even existing treatments.

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