The last 20 years have witnessed a dramatic departure from the classical thinking: neurons are no longer believed to be the sole substrate of higher brain function and deciphering the role of neuroglia as active contributors to coordinated network activity has emerged as an exciting frontier in the study of neuroscience.
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Throughout most of the body, a complex system of lymphatic vessels is responsible for cleansing the tissues of potentially harmful metabolic waste products, accumulations of soluble proteins and excess interstitial fluid. But astonishingly, the body’s most sensitive tissue –the central nervous system – lacks a lymphatic vasculature. What then accounts for the efficient waste clearance that must occur in order for the neural tissue of our brains to function properly?
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One of the most basic but fundamental questions underlying the study of brain science is understanding what factors account for the differences in interspecies intelligence and computational power. Sophisticated cognitive abilities, such as an unparalleled capacity for learning, language, abstract expression, and metacognition are said to set humans apart from animals. But what accounts for these differences?
Learn more about Evolutionary Changes of Astrocytes
Thinking, reading, writing, throwing a baseball, or playing a musical instrument – are all actions that require spatially localized regions in the brain to undergo heightened neural activity. But when neurons undergo periods of intense activity, they demand oxygen and a replenishment of their depleted metabolic reserves. The question of how the brain knows exactly which regions to supply extra blood and nutrients to, a concept termed functional hyperemia, is one that underlies the very basis of human cognition and consciousness.
Learn more about Functional Hyperemia and the Contribution of Astrocytes to the Regulation of Cerebral Blood Flow
Frank insult to the central nervous system (CNS), in the form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or cerebral infarction (stroke), exposes the brain and spinal cord’s distinct cellular populations to an environmental catastrophe. Cell membranes and blood vessels rupture, spilling cytotoxic and inflammatory agents into the extracellular space and disrupting the blood supply, while blood brain barrier breakdown leads the influx of unfiltered blood born constituents, shutting down regular cellular metabolism.
Learn more about Glial Responses to Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, the Role of Gliosis
Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating assault to the central nervous system (CNS) that often results in permanent neurologic impairment, intense personal suffering and a disruption to essentially every aspect of life. An overwhelming majority of patients that suffer spinal cord injuries also develop chronic neuropathic pain syndromes that often persist indefinitely. Yet, despite high prevalence and decades of intensive study, to date, damage sustained from spinal cord injury is largely irreversible.
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Chronic pain disrupts the lives of over one and a half billion people around the word, upsetting their sleeping habits, limiting their functional capabilities and causing severe emotional trauma. Though there is no effective long-term solution, we currently treat chronic pain patients with medications such as opioids (morphine, codeine, etc.), non-steroidals (ibuprofen, asprin, etc.) and certain anti-depressants and anti-epileptics (amitriptyline, duloxetine, gabapentin, pregabalin, etc.), which attenuate the sensory perception of acute pain, typically by disrupting or dampening the conduction of pain signaling along non-specific pathways.
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Since its inception in China around 2,000 B.C., acupuncture has been a popular modality of pain treatment in Eastern medical practices. The practice has since spread around the world and is commonly utilized as a therapeutic alternative to Western medicine. Traditional acupuncturists maintain that acupuncture’s analgesic effects come from manipulating the body’s natural energy or
Qi, which is said to lie along meridians and become perturbed in the setting of pain or disease.
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