Getting to the Bottom of Memory
Prof. Joachim Lübke works at the Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-2) at Forschungszentrum Jülich and in the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at Uniklinik RWTH Aachen (source: Forschungszentrum Jülich).
Researchers have investigated the interaction between astrocytes – non-neuronal cells – and excitatory neurons. The membrane protein connexin 30, which is found in astrocytes, appears to play a crucial role in signal transduction in the hippocampus, a region of the brain connected with learning and memory processes. JARA-BRAIN scientists were involved in the research project, whose findings have been published in the high-impact journal Nature Neuroscience.
Astrocytes belong to the category of glial cells. Along with neurons, they are an important cellular component of the brain, performing various basic tasks. For instance, they help to build and maintain the physiological barrier between the blood stream and the central nervous system known as the blood–brain barrier. Moreover, they play a central role in signal transduction between the neurons in the brain.
The research team led by Prof. Nathalie Rouach from the Collège de France and JARA-BRAIN scientists Prof. Joachim Lübke and Dr. Amandine Dufour has now described how astrocytes regulate this process of signal transduction – the transmission of stimuli – in the hippocampus. The protein connexin 30 controls the mobility of fine astrocytic processes. These processes are capable of regulating the concentration and spatial distribution of a neurotransmitter – in this case, glutamate – at the synaptic cleft, the site where signals are transmitted between two neurons. Astrocytes thus have a decisive influence on the modulation of signal transduction and hence the long-term storage of information in the hippocampus – which ultimately means that they contribute to memory function in the brain.