Discovery of New Kind of Cell (Glutamatergic Astrocyte) Shakes Up Neuroscience; “Discovery Opens Up Immense Research Prospects”

Neuroscience is in great upheaval. The two major families of cells that make up the brain, neurons and glial cells, secretly hid a hybrid cell, halfway between these two categories. For as long as neuroscience has existed, it has been recognized that the brain works primarily thanks to the neurons and their ability to rapidly elaborate and transmit information through their networks. To support them in this task, glial cells perform a series of structural, energetic, and immune functions, as well as stabilize physiological constants. Some of these glial cells, known as astrocytes, intimately surround synapses, the points of contact where neurotransmitters are released to transmit information between neurons. This is why neuroscientists have long suggested that astrocytes may have an active role in synaptic transmission and participate in information processing. However, the studies conducted to date to demonstrate this have suffered from conflicting results and have not reached a definitive scientific consensus yet. By identifying a new cell type with the characteristics of an astrocyte and expressing the molecular machinery necessary for synaptic transmission, neuroscientists from the Department of Basic Neurosciences of the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva have put an end to years of controversy.

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