Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently published an article by EPFL scientists that have outlined the molecular mechanics of the shaped cells called astrocytes.
According to common knowledge, the neurons present in the nervous system are believed to be the key to the brain functions. But researches have proven that they aren't the sole performers and the much undermined neighboring cells called astrocytes have quickly gained increasing respect for many functions that they performe. These star shaped cells play a critical role in memory and learning.
EPFL scientists claim that these star-shaped stars, i.e. astrocytes produce lactate that accelerates the memorization process in humans. These surprising results have opened up new possibilities for treating cognitive and memory disorders and psychiatric conditions such as depression and severe mood swings.
Our brains and nervous system are the most needy and greedy of body parts and they require as much as 25% of our daily energy consumption. Neurons and astrocytes on one hand thrive on glucose. Neurons, through their activity release toxins in the body and they need glucose to protect themselves from such toxic buildup. Astrocytes, which are glial cells produce lactate which was long thought by researchers to be a byproduct of glucose metabolism, and also as an energy source for neurons.
A research was published in the journal Cell by EPFL’s Laboratory of Neuroenergetics and Cellular Dynamics in collaboration with a U.S. team inthe year 2011. This research,
marked and unveiled the critical role that lactate plays in memory enhancing and learning.
In vivo, when the transfer of lactate from astrocytes to neurons is blocked, we found that the memorization process was also blocked, so says EPFL professor Pierre Magistretti, head of the lab. We thus knew that it was an essential fuel for that process.
The scientists focused on and analyzed the molecular mechannism of lactate and discovered that lactate not only provides just energy but much more. It performs as a moderator for one type of glutamate receptor (NMDA receptors), which is the primary neurotransmitter of the central nervous system.
This glutamate receptor plays a vital role in the memorization process, and researches demonstrate that the lactate produced astrocytes is what gives them a turbo-boost.
Glutamate lets you drive in first gear; with lactate, you can shift into fourth and travel at 100 km/h, says Magistretti. The initial research of the scientists took place in Vitro and
exposed neurons of mice to various substances and compounds and measured the effect caused on the expression of the genes involved in memory.
Glucose and its derivative, pyruvate didn't have any effect on the mice neurons but a lactate supplement, on the other hand, could trigger the expression of four genes that are involved in cerebral plasticity which are essential for memorization and learning.
This work was followed with in vivo studies, which confirmed their results. The lactate was then administered into the brains of living mice, and then the brain tissue was extracted to measure the gene expression and once again, the expression of the genes involved in cerebral plasticity came out increased significantly.
The big question here now is that could it be possible to take lactate supplements and develop an encyclopedic memory? Would it be possibel to practically make a walking, talking super computer out of a human being? Magistretti also conducts research at the National Center for Competence in Research Synapsy, which is dedicated to the understanding of the synaptic basis of psychiatric diseases. Magistretti’s lab just got a grant to enable them to study the effects of artificial lactate supplementation.
Mgistretti says, We have identified a series of molecules that can make astrocytes produce more lactate. Now the idea is to see in vivo if we can mitigate cognitive deficits and memory disorders.
In addition to that, since conditions such as depression are often coupled with cognitive problems, lactate could also have an antidepressant effect, adds Magistretti.
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