Toxic Fatty Acids Play a Critical Role in Brain Cell Death

Rodent studies led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine have found that cells called astrocytes, which normally nourish neurons, also release toxic fatty acids after neurons are damaged. The team suggests that this phenomenon is likely the driving factor behind most, if not all, diseases that affect brain function, as well as the natural breakdown of brain cells seen in aging.

Our findings show that the toxic fatty acids produced by astrocytes play a critical role in brain cell death and provide a promising new target for treating, and perhaps even preventing, many neurodegenerative diseases,” said Shane Liddelow, PhD, who is co-senior and corresponding author of the researchers’ published paper in Nature. In their report, which is titled, “Neurotoxic reactive astrocytes induce cell death via saturated lipids,” the team concluded. “The findings highlight the important role of the astrocyte reactivity response in CNS injury and neurodegenerative disease and the relatively unexplored role of lipids in CNS signaling.”

 

Astrocytes—star-shaped glial cells of the central nervous system (CNS)—undergo functional changes in response to CNS disease and injury, but the mechanisms that underlie these changes and their therapeutic relevance remain unclear, the authors noted. Interestingly, previous research has pointed to astrocytes as the culprits behind cell death seen in Parkinson’s disease and dementia, among other neurodegenerative diseases. “Astrocytes regulate the response of the central nervous system to disease and injury, and have been hypothesized to actively kill neurons in neurodegenerative disease,” the researchers stated. But while many experts believed that these cells release a neuron-killing molecule to clear away damaged brain cells, the identity of the toxin has remained a mystery.

The studies by Liddelow and colleagues now provide what they say is the first evidence that tissue damage prompts astrocytes to produce two kinds of fats, long-chain saturated free fatty acids and phosphatidylcholines. These fats then trigger cell death in damaged neurons. For their investigation, researchers analyzed the molecules released by astrocytes collected from rodents. “Previous evidence suggested that the toxic activity of reactive astrocytes is mediated by a secreted protein, so we first sought to identify the toxic agent by protein mass spectrometry of reactive versus control astrocyte conditioned medium (ACM),” they wrote.

Source: https://www.genengnews.com/

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