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WA scientists discover a new set of cells that control the blood-brain barrier

01/07/24 - Researchers at the Perron Institute and The University of Western Australia (UWA) have discovered a new set of cells that can protect blood vessel structure in the central nervous system (CNS) known as the blood-brain barrier, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday.  


“We identified a new set of astrocytes (type of brain cells) that can control the integrity of the blood-brain barrier,” said one of the senior first authors, Professor Minghao Zheng, head of Brain and Bone Research Axis at the Perron Institute and UWA.  


“The blood-brain barrier is a network of blood vessels that supplies essential nutrients to the brain and protects it from circulating toxins and pathogens. With age, or in brain disorders, the function of the blood-brain barrier is reduced.   


“This newly discovered subset of astrocytes expressed a protein found in bone tissue called dentin matrix protein 1 (DMP-1).   


“These cells generate ‘endfeet’ and transfer mitochondria (energy generating cells) to endothelial cells which line the blood vessels of the CNS.  


“Reduction in the function of these astrocytes inhibited mitochondrial transfer and caused leakage of the blood-brain barrier. Mitochondrial transfer from astrocytes to blood vessel cells was identified as crucial to the maintenance of the blood-brain barrier.  


“Our findings give new insights into the cellular framework that underpins the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier that occurs in ageing and disease, and provide a target for the development of treatment regimes.”  


These exciting findings formed part of the PhD recently completed by joint first author Dr Delin Liu (via UWA and Perron Institute) in collaboration with Dr Liu’s co-supervisors Professor Zheng and Associate Professor Junjie Gao (also a PhD graduate and research fellow at the Perron Institute and UWA), and Professor Changqing Zhang, Director of the National Center for Orthopaedics in the Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital affiliated with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China.    


Dr Liu has returned to the National Center for Orthopaedics in Shanghai and continues his clinical practices and research in collaboration with Perron Institute and UWA.   


Other WA-linked authors on the paper include Dr Jun Yuan (Perron Institute and UWA), Yao Zong (UWA PhD student supervised by Professor Zheng), Ziming Chen (UWA Research Associate), Emeritus Professor John Papadimitriou (UWA), and Dr Peilin Chen (UWA Honorary Research Fellow).

Professor Minghao Zheng in the Perron Institute lab




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