Cells in the brain called pericytes play a crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to research in the November issue of the journal, Neuron.
“For 150 years these cells have been known to exist in the brain, but we haven’t known exactly what they are doing in adults,” Dr. Berislav Zlokovic said in a news release from the University of Rochester Medical Center. “It turns out the pericytes are very important for helping maintain a brain environment crucial to the health of neurons. The pericyte offers us an exciting new target for new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.”
Pericytes wrap around capillaries like ivy around a pipe, to help maintain the structural integrity of the tiny blood vessels. They play a central role in determining the amount of blood flowing in the brain and in maintaining the barrier that stops toxic substances from leaking out of the capillaries and into brain tissue. When researchers reduced the number of pericytes in the brains of laboratory mice, they observed a reduced blood flow, greater exposure to toxic substances, impaired learning and memory, and damage to neurons, or nerve cells. The mice experienced an array of problems that closely match the brain abnormalities experienced by people with neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s.
Read the news release.
Read the abstract in the journal, Neuron (including instructional video).