Astrocytes are cells in the central nervous system that support and regulate neurons. Although scientists have studied astrocytes for decades, very little is known about their role in the ventral midbrain, the region that houses dopamine-releasing neurons critical for reward learning and motivated behaviors. Knowing more about how astrocytes act in this region of the brain is important for understanding how dopamine neuron function is altered in addiction.
Unique functional properties of astrocytes in the ventral midbrain. Courtesy of: Wendy Xin
Scientists at NIDA’s Intramural Research Program have just published a study suggesting that ventral midbrain astrocytes are physiologically distinct from astrocytes in other parts of the brain. These findings provide new insight into how regional astrocyte differences may impact dopamine neuron function and susceptibility to degeneration.