Can astrocyte cells protect nerve cells from damage?

Lead Investigator: Professor Michael Ashford

Institution: The University of Dundee

Grant type: PhD

Duration: 3 years

Amount: £75,000

Scientific Title: Astrocyte regulation of neuronal function: analysing their contribution to oxidative and metabolic stress in neurodegeneration

What was the project, and what did the researchers do?

Astrocytes are a type of brain cell that control which substances enter the brain in blood, and are also important for reducing damage to cells caused by a natural process called oxidation. Oxidation has been linked to the accumulation of hallmark of Alzheimer's disease proteins amyloid and tau and is known to cause the cells to go into a state of stress. It is possible that damage to astrocytes in Alzheimer's is linked to the damage to nerve cells.  

Professor Ashford's PhD student used mice that exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and were missing a gene that regulates oxidation in cells to understand the role that stress plays in the development of Alzheimer's. The mice were given a high-fat diet that activated their astrocytes and the researchers analysed the effects of this on their memory.

What were the key results and how will this benefit people with dementia?

The researchers found that the mice that had eaten a high-fat diet had less memory problems than those who were not fed this diet. This result was unexpected, as obesity and related conditions have been linked to dementia onset in other studies. The researchers concluded that a high-fat diet may be able to counteract the effects of the damaging oxidation.  

The researchers also tested the response of the mice to stress produced in response to a bacterial protein. The results from this study are still being analysed. 

The results from this study will help to further improve our understanding of the role of stress and infections in the development of Alzheimer's disease and inform future research in this area.

What happened next? Future work and additional grants

The researchers are continuing to analyse their data to fully understand the processes behind oxidation and stress in relation to Alzheimer's disease. 

How were people told about the results? Conferences and publications

Conferences:

University of Dundee Student Symposium 2012 (talk): 'Astrocyte regulation of neuronal function: analysing their contribution to oxidative and metabolic stress in neurodegeneration'

University of Dundee Student Symposium 2013 (poster): 'Investigation into the role of astrocyte regulation of neuronal function during oxidative and metabolic stress in neurodegeneration'

Alzheimer Research UK 2014 Conference, Oxford (poster): 'Loss of Nrf2 in mice increases hippocampal glia inflammation, which is modified by high-fat diet and overexpression of hAPPswe'

University of Dundee Student Symposium 2014 (talk): 'Loss of nrf2 in mice increases hippocampal glia inflammation, which is modified by high-fat diet and overexpression of happswe'

Dundee Science Festival (November 2014): volunteer at ARUK stand at Dundee Science Centre, and for lab tour following public Alzheimer lecture at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School