Researchers have found that brain cells are critically important for the growth of brain stem neurons responsible for cardiorespiratory control. The discovery has profound implications for the prevention and treatment of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), the leading cause of death in children aged one month to one year.
The new discovery is published online in Neuroscience
In their study, the OHSU team looked at glial cells, non-neuronal cells of the brain, and found that they very potently regulate growth of nerve cells in the brainstem. In fact, the glial cells actually inhibit the growth of brainstem neurons and may be as important for establishing neuronal networks as neurotrophic factors, a family of proteins essential for brain growth and survival. The OHSU study is the first to find that glial cells inhibit nerve cell growth.
The new study also shows that glial cells direct the growth of brainstem neurons caused by BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), another molecule found by the Balkowiec lab to play an important role in cardiorespiratory control.
"Our study shows that the picture is more complex than we had previously thought," said Balkowiec. "A better understanding of interactions between BDNF and glial cells could play a significant role in the development of treatment for SIDS, high blood pressure, and other disorders with a deficient cardiorespiratory control."