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Astrocytic mitochondria help you remember

Using NMR spectroscopy to detect cell morphology alterations in vivo
With the participation of MIRCen, an international team1 has shown that the reactive oxygen species generated naturally and abundantly by the mitochondria of astrocytes play a key role in neuron integrity and brain function, including memory.

Published on 28 March 2019
Mitochondria can be thought of as little "power plants" for the cell.
They use products of glycolysis to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that it used by the cell to ensure its numerous functions.
Mitochondria also produce other molecules, including reactive oxygen species (ROS). Mitochondria are present in all cells but the amount of energy they can produce in any given type of cell does vary.
An international team1 including MIRCen showed that within the energy-voracious brain (close to 20% of total glucose consumption in humans), neuronal mitochondria produce more ATP than astrocytic mitochondria, but inversely, astrocytic mitochondria produce much more ROS than neuronal mitochondria2.
That finding raises a question: what specific physiological role might this abundant, natural supply of mitochondrial ROS from the astrocytes play?
To answer that question, the team induced mitochondrial ROS degradation in astrocytes in a mouse model. Doing so resulted in alterations to a number of metabolic pathways, and those alterations were associated with a loss of neuronal structural integrity and changes in the behavior of the mice, notably as concerns spatial memory. Their results contribute greatly to a better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, all of which present mitochondrial functional deficits.

  1. Institute of Functional Biology and Genomics (Salamanque, Espagne) 
  2. Lopez-Fabuel et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016, Oct 31

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