How the brain gets rid of a dead cell

  • Researchers at Yale have made the first-ever recording of the brain removing a dead neuron 
  • This was part of a study on the synchronised relationship between astrocytes and microglia in glial cells that act as garbage disposals 
  • This could provide more insight into treating brain disorders, injury and the effects of ageing 

Ever wondered what happens to those poor brain cells you killed during your latest Netflix marathon?

It turns out we have some pretty nifty garbage collectors that remove neuronal corpses from our brains. Without them, "leftover" brain cells could cause many cognitive issues sooner or later in life. 

Recently scientists from the Yale School of Medicine managed to capture on video how our brains "take out the garbage". 

These removers are called astrocytes and microglia and are found in glial cells that work together to surround the dead neuron and clean out its connection to other branches in the brain.

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You can watch the first-ever recording of this happening below:

The two researchers –  Eyiyemisi Damisah and Robert Hill – recreated this process through photochemical and viral methodologies that induced death in single cells and combined it with intravital optical imaging.

Seeing this process in action could help scientists create better treatments for brain injuries, neurodevelopmental disorders and other degenerative diseases. 

The video was part of their study published in ScienceAdvances on the synchronous relationship between astrocytes and microglia, and how the removal of these dead cells becomes slower the older we get. 

They concluded that this coordination between glial cells is very important for brain health. Fixing and regulating this relationship could be the key to the recovery from a variety of brain disorders and prevent the mental effects of ageing. 

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The science of brain cells

For a long time, science believed that we had a fixed number of neurons in our brains, and if one died, that would be it, according to the Queensland Brain Institute

But we now know about neurogenesis, where the brain creates new neurons to improve memory and learning new skills. Even in adulthood this process still takes place, making it very important to get rid of old neurons to make way for the new. 

This ability is thought to weaken as we get older.

One of the best-known methods of preventing degeneration in the brain is through staying active.

Harvard Health reports that exercise like aerobics help increase the size of the hippocampus, which is in charge of thinking and memory, and is also where neurogenesis takes place.

Image credit: Pixabay

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