Story at a glance
- A new study found a previously undescribed astrocyte which may protect against inflammation.
- The astrocyte receives signals from gut bacteria to promote its anti-inflammatory function.
- An immune signaling molecule called interferon gamma induces the astrocyte and is produced by natural killer cells which are activated by gut bacteria.
- Inflammation plays a part in some neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
- Our body functions like a Swiss Watch, all our gears are connected. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome can decrease the chances of developing neurodegenerative disorders in our brain.
Astrocytes and brain health
Astrocytes are star-shaped cells which serve protective functions for the Central Nervous System (CNS).
One of their more important roles is to “compose and maintain the structure of the blood-brain barrier, which is a semi-permeable membrane that separates brain blood from the extracellular fluid of the spinal cord.” (1)
The astrocytes use this blood-brain barrier to communicate with other cells and the brain itself.
Astrocytes are capable of malfunctioning and promoting inflammation. Their malfunctioning is also thought to be the cause of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Astrocytes and gut health
For the first time, researchers were able to discover an astrocyte that limits inflammation.
Seeing as astrocytes typically promote inflammation as an immune response to protect the brain, this discovery is especially profound.
More importantly, this astrocyte is signaled by bacteria in our gut. The researchers say that an immune signaling molecule called interferon gamma induces the astrocyte and is produced by natural killer cells which are activated by gut bacteria.
The activated natural killer cells travel through the bloodstream to the meninges (the membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord) where they fight the inflammation.
These findings were published in the Nature journal.
Swiss Watch Principle
Our bodies’ systems are interconnected. Like a Swiss Watch, when one gear malfunctions or stops working altogether, it affects the functionality of the others.
This newly identified astrocyte is a prime example of this perspective, as the health of the microbiome in our gut could potentially determine the functionality of our brain in the long run and decrease our chances of developing diseases such as MS (Multiple Sclerosis).
At The Wellness Way, we urge our patients to not only be mindful of their food intake but to also strive for eliminating common processed foods that can contain a wide variety of toxins. Taking care of our gut counts towards taking care of the rest of our body, too.
(1) Ferri, Brittany. “The Anatomy of Astrocytes: Astrocytes maintain the blood barrier and brain environment.” verywellhealth. December 10, 2019. https://www.verywellhealth.com/astrocytes-anatomy-4774354.