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Mechanism for brain’s energy boost found

Mechanism for brain’s energy boost found

Brain's Boost

Researchers have discovered a key mechanism in the brain that detects when it needs an energy boost. The study, led by UCL scientists, found that star-shaped cells called astrocytes play a crucial role in supplying energy to neurons during high-demand activities. The researchers identified specific receptors on astrocytes that monitor neuronal activity.

When neurons need more energy, these receptors trigger a signaling pathway involving the molecule adenosine. This pathway activates the astrocytes’ glucose stores and metabolism, leading to increased production and release of lactate, which supplements the energy pool available for neurons. Professor Alexander Gourine, lead author from UCL Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology, said, “When our brain is more active, such as during a mentally taxing task, it needs an immediate energy boost.

However, the exact mechanisms that ensure an on-demand local supply of metabolic energy to active brain regions are not fully understood.”

To confirm the importance of this mechanism, the researchers deactivated the key astrocyte receptors in mice.

Energy regulation by astrocytes

They found that this disruption impaired brain metabolism, memory, and sleep, indicating the vital role these receptors play in brain function.

Dr. Shefeeq Theparambil, first author of the study, commented, “Identification of this mechanism may have broader implications as it could treat brain diseases where brain energetics are downregulated, such as neurodegeneration and dementia.”

The findings suggest that brain energy metabolism can become impaired late in life, contributing to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Professor Gourine added, “Our study identifies an attractive, druggable target and therapeutic opportunity for brain energy rescue to protect brain function, maintain cognitive health, and promote brain longevity.”

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The study involved collaboration between scientists from UCL, Lancaster University, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, University of Bristol, University of Warwick, and University of Colorado.

The research was supported by Wellcome. This discovery could lead to new therapies aimed at maintaining brain health and cognitive function as we age. By targeting the adenosine signaling pathway in astrocytes, researchers may be able to develop treatments that boost the brain’s energy supply and potentially slow or prevent cognitive decline.

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