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After Brain Injury, New Astrocytes Play Unexpected Role in Healing

The production of a certain kind of brain cell that had been considered an impediment to healing may actually be needed to staunch bleeding and promote repair after a stroke or head trauma, researchers at Duke Medicine report.

These cells, known as astrocytes, can be produced from stem cells in the brain after injury. They migrate to the site of damage where they are much more effective in promoting recovery than previously thought. This insight from studies in mice, reported online April 24, 2013, in the journal Nature, may help researchers develop treatments that foster brain repair. 

“The injury recovery process is complex,” said senior author Chay T. Kuo, M.D., PhD, George W. Brumley Assistant Professor of Cell Biology, Pediatrics and Neurobiology at Duke University. “There is a lot of interest in how new neurons can stimulate functional recovery, but if you make neurons without stopping the bleeding, the neurons don’t even get a chance. The brain somehow knows this, so we believe that’s why it produces these unique astrocytes in response to injury.” 

Funding:  The National Biomedical Technology Resource Center (P41 RR005959); the George and Jean Brumley Endowment; the Sontag Foundation; the David & Lucile Packard Foundation; the March of Dimes; and the National Institutes of Health (DP2 OD004453-01).

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