A new potential target for treating drug addiction through astrocytes, which the researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School refer to ‘the hidden stars of the brain’, has been discovered.
They had investigated astrocyte calcium signaling in the brain. The study revealed that the behavioral effects of amphetamine could be decreased by targeting this signaling.
As per the researchers, astrocytes have traditionally been considered the ‘support cells’ of the brain and ignored in terms of actively contributing to brain function. However, the current study shows that astrocytes do contribute to information processing and in the functioning of organisms.
The scientists found that in mice, astrocytes respond to dopamine, a reward molecule, with increases in calcium in the nucleus accumbens, one of the major reward centers of the brain. This increase in calcium was related to the release of ATP/adenosine to modulate neural activity in the nucleus accumbens. Then, they looked specifically at amphetamine as it's known to increase dopamine and psychomotor activity in organisms.
They found that astrocytes respond to amphetamine with increases in calcium and when astrocyte activity was removed, the behavioral effect of amphetamine decreased in a mouse model.
These findings suggest that astrocytes contribute to amphetamine signaling, dopamine signaling, and overall reward signaling in the brain.
Because of this, astrocytes are a potentially novel cell type that can be specifically targeted to develop efficacious therapies for diseases with dysregulated dopamine.
The study was co-led by Michelle Corkrum, a third-year medical in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/Ph.D.) at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Ana Covelo, Ph.D., in the lab of Alfonso Araque, Ph.D., and in collaboration with Mark Thomas, Ph.D.