New research, published in Neuroscience, sheds light on the mechanisms responsible for development of nerves that control blood pressure and breathing.
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have discovered that brain cells commonly thought to play a supporting role actually are critically important for the growth of brainstem neurons responsible for cardiorespiratory control. The discovery has profound implications for the prevention and treatment of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), the leading cause of death in children aged 1 month to 1 year.
In their study, the OHSU team looked at glial cells, non-neuronal cells of the brain, and found that they very potently regulate growth of nerve cells in the brainstem. In fact, the glial cells actually inhibit the growth of brainstem neurons and may be as important for establishing neuronal networks as neurotrophic factors, a family of proteins essential for brain growth and survival. The OHSU study is the first to find that glial cells inhibit nerve cell growth.
The new study also shows that glial cells direct the growth of brainstem neurons caused by BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), another molecule found by the Balkowiec lab to play an important role in cardiorespiratory control.
The new discovery is published online in Neuroscience.