A recent study demonstrating that astrocytes participate in the formation of inhibitory synapses in the cortex suggests these cells may plan an important role in some neurological disorders. The new study, published in the journal Glia, details the newly discovered mechanism by which astrocytes are involved in inhibitory synapse formation and presents strong evidence that Transforming Growth Factor Beta 1 (TGF ?1), a protein produced by many cell types (including astrocytes), is a key player in this process, according to a news release from Publicase Comunicação Científica. The research team, led by Flávia Gomes, PhD, investigated the process in both mouse and human tissues. The process was tested first in test tubes, then in living brain cells.

The authors of the study were able to show TGF ?1, a molecule associated with essential functions in nervous system development and repair, triggers N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA), a molecule controlling memory formation and maintenance. The researchers also demonstrated that TGF ?1-induction of inhibitory synapses depends on activation of another molecule: Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMK2)-, which works as a mediator for learning and memory, as noted on a news report from Science Daily.

Gomes explains, “Our study is the first to associate this complex pathway of molecules, of which TGF ?1 seems to be a key player, to astrocytes’ ability to modulate inhibitory synapses.”

The Science Daily news report indicates that concept that the balance between excitatory and inhibitory inputs depends on astrocyte signals gains strong support with this new study and suggests a pivotal role for astrocytes in the development of neurological disorders involving impaired inhibitory synapse transmission. Knowing the mechanisms and players underlying inhibitory synapses may improve the understanding of synaptic plasticity and cognitive processes. In addition, it may help develop new drugs for treating these conditions.

[Sources: Science Daily, Publicase Comunicação Científica]