Researchers here produce an interesting demonstration in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. With a comparatively simple change, they rein in the abnormal behavior of astrocyte cells in the brain, and thereby reverse the symptoms of the condition. As noted in the publicity materials, the relevance of mouse models of Alzheimer’s to the real thing in humans is often strained – the models are highly artificial, as mice and most other mammals don’t normally suffer anything resembling Alzheimer’s disease. Thus in cases like this it is hard to say without further work whether or not the discovery is relevant to human biochemistry.
Nonetheless, the supporting cells of the brain, the various categories of neuroglia such as the astrocytes noted here, cannot be ignored in the progression neurodegenerative conditions. They perform a wide range of important functions: clearing up debris and waste; supplying necessary proteins and other molecules to neurons; participating in the maintenance and operation of synaptic connections between neurons; and much more. In neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, the neuroglia malfunction or change their behavior in harmful ways. Chronic inflammation is one consequence, but also disruption of the normal function of neural networks.
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