Team Finds That Brain Implants Can Rely on More Than Neurons to Function


Source: University of Pittsburgh

Summary: A major assumption has been that neurons are the only important target cells of neural-interface technologies. However, a new study reveals that it may also be important to target the supportive glial cells surrounding the neurons.


Glial cells are the most abundant cell types in the central nervous system. They surround the neurons and provide support to them. Glial cells include astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, ependymal cells, Schwann cells, microglia, and satellite cells. They are more functional than previously thought, from providing growth factor support and ensuring proper oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain to trimming of obsolete synapses and recycling waste products, recent findings show that glial cells do much more to ensure brain activity is optimized. A major assumption has been that neurons are the only important target cells of neural-interface technologies. However, a new study done by the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh reveals that it may also be important to target the supportive glial cells surrounding the neurons. The study findings were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The glial cells surround neurons and provide support for and insulation between them

A depiction of the brain glial cell response towards site injury upon insertion of neural interface probe track (rectangular hole), which disrupts the maintenance of their important regulatory roles. Credit: TDY Kozai/BionicLab.ORG

The signals of glial cells are very slow and dim when compared to the vibrant electrical activity of neurons and are very difficult to detect. New research advancements allow detecting the subtleties of glial cell activity. The research team led by Kozai are investigating the biological tissue response to implantable technologies. By combining in vivo multiphoton microscopy and in vivo electrophysiology the team is better able to visualize how cells move and change over time in the living brain and explain how changes in these glial cells alter the visually evoked neural network activity. Dysfunction in glial cells has been implicated as a cause and/or major contributor to an increasing number of neurological and developmental diseases. Therefore, it stands to reason that targeting these glial cells (in lieu of or in combination with neurons) may dramatically improve current treatments.

Asst. Prof. Takashi Kozai explains, “Dysfunction in glial cells has been implicated as a cause and/or major contributor to an increasing number of neurological and developmental diseases. Therefore, it stands to reason that targeting these glial cells (in lieu of or in combination with neurons) may dramatically improve current treatments.”


More Information: Joseph W. Salatino et al, “Glial responses to implanted electrodes in the brain”, Nature Biomedical Engineering (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-017-0154-1


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *