A study guided by Si-Qiong June Liu, MD, Ph.D., Prof of Cell Biology and Anatomy at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, has proven how stress modifies the structure of the brain and reveals a potential therapeutic target to the prevent or reverse it. The findings are featured in JNeurosci, the Journal of Neuroscience.
Working in a mouse model, Liu and her analysis crew discovered that a single stressful event produced quick and long-lasting adjustments in astrocytes, the brain cells that clean up chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters after they’ve communicated data between nerve cells. The stressful episode prompted the branches of the astrocytes to shrink away from the synapses, the spaces throughout which information is transmitted from one cell to another.
The crew additionally found a mechanism leading to communication disruption. They discovered that during a tense event, the stress hormone norepinephrine suppresses a molecular pathway that usually produces a protein, GluA1, without which nerve cells and astrocytes can’t talk with each other.
Dr. Liu says that since many signaling pathways are conserved throughout evolution, the molecular pathways that result in astrocyte structural transforming and suppression of GluA1 manufacturing may also happen in humans who experience a tense event.