UMN Medical Researchers Examine the Role of Astrocytes in Brain Control of Systemic Metabolism

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- December 20, 2018 – For centuries, researchers have been looking at brain function as a result of the activity of neurons. However recent advances in biology, optics, genetics, and pharmacology have allowed researchers to study hypothalamic neuronal–glial networks in a whole new way. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School are now promoting the idea that brain function does not result exclusively from the activity of neurons, but from the coordinated activity of both neurons and Astrocytes.

This concept was recently summarized in the “Role of astrocytes, microglia, and tanycytes in brain control of systemic metabolism,” published in Nature Neuroscience. Researchers explain that now they are looking at both neurons and glial cells, it will help them understand what really happens in the brain to produce certain behaviors.

“We are now expanding that view and trying to realize what is the role of astrocytes through these interactions with neurons on different brain functions,” said Alfonso Araque, PhD, Professor, Department of Neuroscience with the University of Minnesota Medical School. “We are now suggesting that astrocytes can have a role in the main control of the systemic metabolism and how brain function results from the coordinated activity of neurons and astrocytes.”

Researchers are currently focusing on the hypothalamus which places a key role in regulating metabolism. For centuries, researchers focused on the functions of neurons, but now they are realizing that the non-neuronal cells, the glial cells, may also play important roles in controlling the activity of that nucleus that control the food intake and the energy expenditure by the animal.

A key ingredient in controlling how much the animal eats and how much the animal is expending the energy- one key region is the hypothalamus. And we know a great deal of the hypothalamic functions of the neurons for that normal behavior and food and intake and energy expenditure, however we now start to realize that these other neuron cells, the glial cells, may play important roles in controlling the activity of that nucleus that finally control the food intake and the energy expenditure by the animal. This could have an impact on pharmacological strategies to prevent and treat metabolic diseases such as obesity.

“We hope we can provide new ideas supported by new experimentals evidence that astrocytes can be targeted by these approaches,” said Araque.

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. Visit med.umn.edu to learn how the University of Minnesota is innovating all aspects of medicine.

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