What are astrocytes or glial cells? They are smaller and more numerous than neurons. They serve as support, defense and even care for them. They’re a kind of glue that holds neurons together. They should lack cognitive or memory functions. But it turns out to be cells related to cocaine addiction.
More “remember”, strengthen the addiction
A team at the University of Pittsburgh just found an unexpected function in astrocytes. It is related to cocaine use in mice. It induced the formation of new synapses in which astrocytes were mediators. The research results will be published this week in the journal Biological Psyquiatry. It’s titled Cocaine triggers astrocyte-mediated synaptogenesis.
“We show that astrocytes react to the cocaine experience by promoting the formation of new synapses. That is, the physical connection points between neurons, ”explains Yan Dong. He is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.
These drug-induced synaptic connections are not conscious memories. Rather, a change in the brain pattern, which in this case contributes to the addiction. “These ‘memories’ associated with drugs can be extremely long-lasting. And they can often trigger relapses even after prolonged abstinence,” adds Dong.
John Krystal is editor of the journal Biological Psychiatry. He says, “We think the response to cocaine is purely neurological. In this research we can observe the role of supporting cells called astrocytes. They are related to long-term effects of repeated exposure to cocaine. “
The researchers bred a strain of transgenic mice. The data showed that astrocytes were involved in the formation of new cocaine-induced synapses.
Opportunity for improvement
When the researchers blocked the formation of these new synapses, the rats did not seek cocaine after a period of abstinence.
“These new synapses strengthen the ‘memories’ associated with cocaine,” explains Dr. Dong. “Our results deliver an unexpected but concrete goal. Glia-mediated synaptogenic signal transmission, ”he adds. Examining cells related to cocaine addiction can be very helpful.
These new synapses could be manipulated for potential therapeutic benefit from the abuse of certain drugs.