Unlocking the power of astrocytes

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The central nervous system contains different cells: nerve cells (neurons) and supporting cells (glia). Astrocytes are the most common type of glial cells and play an important role in the brain. In response to injury, astrocytes are activated and increasingly formed at the lesion. They “seal” the lesion by forming a so-called glial scar. “Astrocytes form a dense scar outside the lesion nucleus, thus limiting the site of injury. The glial scar is a physical barrier that inhibits the growth and regeneration of axons,“ said Binhai Zheng of UC San Diego's School of Medicine. “This limitation of the injury is also helpful because it prevents the spread of inflammation and the increase in the injury.” Recently, it was also shown that astrocytes also support axon regeneration and thus the outgrowth of injured nerve cells.

Zheng's research team now has new insights into what influences the regulation of astrocytes. The enzyme LZK (leucine zipper kinase) plays a key role here. After a spinal cord injury, it is increasingly formed and also controls scarring. If the research team experimentally increases LCC, there will be an increased response of the astrocytes and an increased or firmer scarring. An experimental reduction, however, restricts scarring. To understand the regulation of the cells after an injury is enormously valuable for spinal cord research.

LZK has now been discovered as a key enzyme for the astrocyte response and thus as an interesting target molecule. Now it is important to find the right balance to be able to affect the recovery after injury with the right dosage.

This important project was recently published in the prestigious journal Cell Reports and supported by Wings for Life.

Source: “Leucine Zipper-Bearing Kinase Is a Critical Regulator of Astrocyte Reactivity in the Adult Mammalian CNS”. Chen M, Geoffroy CG, Meves JM, Narang A, Li Y, Nguyen MT, Khai VS, Kong X, Steinke CL, Carolino KI, Elzière L, Goldberg MP, Jin Y, Zheng B. Cell Reports, March 2018.