Call-and-response circuit tells neurons when to grow synapses

LA JOLLA—Brain cells called astrocytes play a key role in helping neurons develop and function properly, but there’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about how astrocytes perform these important jobs. Now, a team of scientists led by Associate Professor Nicola Allen has found one way that neurons and astrocytes work together to form healthy connections called synapses. This insight into normal astrocyte function could help scientists better understand disorders linked to problems with neuronal development, including autism spectrum disorders. The study was published September 8, 2021, in the journal eLife.

“We know that astrocytes could play a role in neurodevelopmental disorders, so we wanted to ask: How are they playing a role in typical development?” says Allen, a member of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory. “In order to better understand the disorders, we first have to understand what happens normally.”

Synapses form critical connections between neurons,…
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