Brain Cells Vital to Breathing Identified

LONDON, July 19 (UPI) — Scientists say cells previously believed to act just as a “glue” between brain neurons have, in fact, a central role in the regulation of breathing in humans.

Astrocytes, named after their characteristic star shape, monitor levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and activate brain respiratory networks to increase a person’s breathing to match metabolism and activity, reported Friday.

The research could lead to understanding causes of devastating conditions associated with respiratory failure such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ScienceDaily said.

Astrocytes are a type of brain cell called glial cells, from the Greek for “glue,” the most numerous cell type in the human brain.

Once thought to merely serve as structural and nutritional support for the brain’s neurons, glial cells like astrocytes play a much more important role, scientists say.

“This research identifies brain astrocytes as previously unrecognized crucial elements of the brain circuits controlling fundamental bodily functions vital for life, such as breathing, and indicates that they are indeed the real stars of the brain,” said Dr Alexander Gourine, a researcher at University College London.

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