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Immune Cells "Sculpt" Circuits in the Brain
Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10:09 PM
Joined: 12/6/2011
Posts: 3326

From Alzheimer's Daily News:

Source: PR Newswire) - A study from Boston Children's Hospital concludes that brain cells known as microglia, tuned into the crosstalk between neurons, literally engulf unnecessary connections, known as synapses, and prune them away.

The study is the first to capture microglia, previously thought of as immune cells, in the act of eliminating synapses in the healthy, developing brain. The study further shows that microglia take their cues from neurons' activity patterns and signals used by the immune system to rid the body of unwanted pathogens and debris.


The findings may have implications for understanding neurodegenerative diseases in which synapses are lost, or developmental disorders such as autism in which synapses are dysfunctional.


Beth Stephens, PhD, explained, "They're gatekeepers that are extremely responsive to changes in the environment." "They're in the brain all the time it's wiring up, and they can move and sense changes in activity."


Dori Scheaffer, PhD, added, "We think that weaker synapses are being tagged with C3, and that microglia are eliminating them just as macrophages would eliminate bacteria. C3 is like an 'eat me' signal."


Stevens thinks that their findings might shed light on diseases that involve synapse loss or dysfunction, such as glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease.


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