So far unknown brain structure discovered

So far unknown brain structure discovered

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Understanding of brain energy supply improved

The brain is probably the most complex organ in the human body. Even though science is making rapid progress, many brain functions are still considered to be insufficiently understood. A research team from Saudi Arabia has now discovered a previously unknown brain function that leads to a better understanding of the organ and to new therapeutic approaches for dementia, depression and stroke.

Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have come a step closer to understanding the brain and its function. The team deciphered the structure of special brain cells that were only discovered a few years ago and whose functions are largely unknown. The study was recently published in the journal "Progress in Neurobiology".

What are astrocytes?

A few years ago, unknown brain cells were discovered for the first time. However, the exact function of the so-called astrocytes has so far been unclear. The team around the Swiss scientist Dr. Corrado Calì now analyzed the complex brain cells more closely. "Astrocytes are cells that store energy and supply neurons with energy at several levels," explains Dr. Calì. They are branched like a spider web and connected to the brain cells and blood vessels by membranes.

Structure decoded

In a series of imaging experiments, the researchers were able to create a precise 3D reconstruction of these astrocytes in complex analyzes. "The first step in understanding how these cells work is to see the full structure of an astrocyte," explains the brain expert. The pioneering work opens the door to a deeper understanding of how learning and memory work, which could have far-reaching implications for the treatment of related diseases such as Alzheimer's, depression and stroke. "We could help slow these diseases down by targeting these cells," said Calì.

The energy supply to the brain

The scientists suspect that the brain is supplied with energy via the astrocyte network. Another study from 2015 already showed that lactate, the salt of lactic acid, plays a key role in learning and memory formation. Dr. Calì now wants to decipher how the brain uses lactate. Earlier research projects have shown that injections of lactate reduce the damage after a stroke if they are injected within 30 minutes of the incident. The administration of lactates was also effective in curing depression. "By deeply understanding these mechanisms of action from a cellular and molecular point of view, we can design and maximize the efficiency of treatments based on lactate," summarizes the research director. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Corrado Calì, Marco Agus, Kalpana Kare, u.a .: 3D cellular reconstruction of cortical glia and parenchymal morphometric analysis from Serial Block-Face Electron Microscopy of juvenile rat Author links open overlay panel, Progress in Neurobiology, September 2019,
  • Philipp Mächler, Matthias T. Wyss, Maha Elsayed, u.a .: In Vivo Evidence for a Lactate Gradient from Astrocytes to Neurons, Cell Metabolism, 2015,

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