Using β3 integrin to control reactive astrocytes, and help neurons survive


The long-ignored astrocyte is of more interest than ever in neuroscience. When the central nervous system is damaged, astrocytes undergo astrogliosis, morphing into reactive astrocytes to protect neurons from further damage. But, as it turns out, this process could be doing more harm than good by not allowing damaged neurons to mend themselves.

Professor Lisette Leyton of the University of Chile is investigating the biochemistry behind this Faustian bargain, seeing whether molecules involved in this process like connexin43 or β3 integrin could provide a new therapeutic tool in managing neurodegenerative diseases.

If someone brings up the topic of neuroscience, or the nervous system, several cells or molecules might come to your mind. The scrawny neurons within the brain, connected to their neighbours in an unfathomably complex network. Or the neurotransmitters sent by neurons as signals, with famous faces like dopamine or serotonin. However, one cell you likely wouldn’t mention is the astrocyte.

Reactive astrocytes help to form the glial scar. Once the scar has formed, astrocytes settle at the scar,
permanently becoming a non-motile scar astrocyte [Front Pharmacol. 10:1546 (2020)].
ECM, extracellular matrix; GF, growth factors; CSPG, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans.

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