UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


IoN research discovers novel means of communication between neurones and glia

25 November 2016

Research by Dr Thomas Jensen and colleagues from the Institute of Neurology has discovered a novel way by which nerve cells in the brain can communicate with astroglia.

The paper ‘Astrocytic GABA transporter activity modulates excitatory neurotransmission’ was published in the journal Nature Communications on Friday 25 November 2016 by researchers led by Professor Matthew Walker, Professor Dmitri Rusakov and Dr Ivan Pavlov.

During high levels of brain activity, inhibitory nerve cells release the inhibitory transmitter GABA. This is taken up by nerve cells and astroglia. Astroglia were once considered as just the ‘supporting scaffold’ of the central nervous system.

However, researchers at the IoN have discovered that GABA uptake by astroglia causes them to release transmitters which decrease nerve cell excitability, so responding to and regulating brain function. Problems with this form of communication could be important in diseases of the nervous system such as epilepsy and dementia.

Professor Walker said, "Astroglia had long been thought to play a supportive role in the brain. Our findings add to an increasing body of work that show that astroglia regulate neuronal activity. It is likely that abnormalities of astroglia  contribute to diseases of the brain and understanding their physiological and pathological roles will provide novel ways of treating these."