Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bright stars of the brain regulate breathing

Date:
July 19, 2010
Source:
University College London
Summary:
Astrocytes -- brain cells named after their characteristic star-shape and previously thought to act only as the 'glue' between neurons -- have a central role in the regulation of breathing, according to scientists. The finding provides a new dimension for research into fundamental principles of brain organization and function and may be relevant for understanding causes of devastating conditions associated with respiratory failure such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

This image of brainstem astrocytes was taken using a confocal microscope.
Credit: Alexander Gourine

Astrocytes -- brain cells named after their characteristic star-shape and previously thought to act only as the 'glue' between neurons, have a central role in the regulation of breathing, according to scientists.

The finding provides a new dimension for research into fundamental principles of brain organization and function and may be relevant for understanding causes of devastating conditions associated with respiratory failure such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in Science Express, was carried out by scientists at UCL and the University of Bristol. They demonstrate that brain astrocytes are able to sense the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. They then activate brain neuronal respiratory networks to increase our breathing in accord with prevailing metabolism and activity.

Astrocytes are a subtype of a group of brain cells known as glia (which means 'glue' in Greek). Glial cells are the most abundant cells in the human brain -- outnumbering neurons by a factor of ten to one. Until very recently, glial cells have been thought to be the less exciting sisters of neurones, merely providing them with structural and nutritional support.

Now, astrocytes have been found to have a unique ability to "taste" the composition of arterial blood entering the brain by sensing increases in arterial levels of carbon dioxide. When activated they release a chemical messenger called ATP which stimulates brain respiratory centres to increase our breathing in order for extra carbon dioxide to be removed from the blood and exhaled.

This observation places astrocytes at the centre of a fundamental regulatory reflex which subconsciously continually adjusts our breathing according to ever changing metabolic and behavioural needs.

Dr Alexander Gourine, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in the UCL Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, who led the study, said: "This research identifies brain astrocytes as previously unrecognized crucial elements of the brain circuits controlling fundamental bodily functions vital for life, such as breathing, and indicates that they are indeed the real stars of the brain.

"This basic science information has to be used rapidly in order to determine whether glial dysfunction contributes to serious disorders of central control of breathing underlying Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and/or congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (Ondine's curse). If this hypothesis is correct astrocytes may be considered as potential targets for therapy in preventing respiratory failure."

The research was carried out in rats using revolutionary gene transfer techniques that allow scientists to observe and control the activity of astrocytes in living brains using light.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alexander V. Gourine, Vitaliy Kasymov, Nephtali Marina, Feige Tang, Melina F. Figueiredo, Samantha Lane, Anja G. Teschemacher, K. Michael Spyer, Karl Deisseroth, and Sergey Kasparov. Astrocytes Control Breathing Through pH-Dependent Release of ATP. Science, 2010; DOI: 10.1126/science.1190721

Cite This Page:

University College London. "Bright stars of the brain regulate breathing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715152857.htm>.
University College London. (2010, July 19). Bright stars of the brain regulate breathing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715152857.htm
University College London. "Bright stars of the brain regulate breathing." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715152857.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Is your child ready? Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Stepping up their vigilance against Ebola, federal authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the US from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

AFP (Oct. 22, 2014) Polish doctors describe how they helped a paralysed man walk again, with the patient in disbelief at the return of sensation to his legs. Duration: 1:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins