Webinar Review: The Role of Astrocytes in Neurodegenerative Disease

Over the course of the semester, our trainees are reviewing webinars in their given fields and preparing abstracts to help colleagues outside their discipline make an informed choice about watching them. As our program bridges diverse disciplines, these abstracts are beneficial for our own group in helping one another gain key knowledge in each other’s fields. We are happy to share these here for anyone else who may find them helpful.

The Role of Astrocytes in Neurodegenerative Disease

Shane Liddelow, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology & Department of Ophthalmology, New York University Langone

November 3, 2020

Hosting Organization: 10X Genomics Global Neuroscience Virtual Symposium

Watch the Webinar (on the 10X Genomics website)

Taylor JorgensenAnalysis by Taylor Jorgensen:

While glial cells were once thought to be little more than the “glue” that held the brain together, we now know that each glial cell type plays an essential function in the nervous system. Astrocytes in particular are known as the largest cellular component of the central nervous system, and have diverse roles in synapse pruning, blood-brain barrier maintenance, and metabolic buffering.

This webinar further explores the interaction between astrocytes and neurons, specifically in regards to reactive astrocytes. Interestingly, reactive astrocytes lose many of their normal functions and in turn become toxic to both neurons and oligodendrocytes. This small subset of astrocytes has been found in tissues that showed pathology from neurodegenerative diseases, which outside of these regions a negligible amount of toxic cells were seen. Most research on this topic was done in mouse models of diseases such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma. Interestingly, reactive astrocytes also appear in normal aging mice and during embryonic development, suggesting that they can serve an important function. When reactive astrocytes were blocked, neurons ceased degenerating and largely maintained their function. This important finding could be a step in treating neurodegenerative diseases in the future.

A large part of this webinar focuses on analysis of large numbers of astrocytes via single-cell RNA sequencing. This is an advanced technique that all viewers may not be familiar with, and not much background on the technique and its methods are explained during this talk. I would recommend reading up on RNAseq and its resulting graphs in order to better understand the data presented. Overall, this data shows that when large numbers of astrocytes are surveyed, distinct populations of reactive astrocytes can be found together in clusters, but when only a small number of cells are analyzed, it is easy to overlook them as they make up only 1-2% of the total population of astrocytes. Similarities in cell types are seen in both humans and mice, but they note that results are not always directly comparable as the two species can show different pathological responses. All together this webinar provides a nice overview showing the importance of studying reactive astrocytes and their implications in neurodegenerative diseases.