Weird, shape-shifting glial cells are your brain’s caretakers. They’re the first responders in the event of a head injury, and — having colonized every nook and cranny of the place while you were still in the womb — they’re your cranial custodians. These tentacled helpers clear out the junk and are vital to keeping your brain smoothly humming along. But now a new study has discovered something startling about them: they eat healthy brain cells in mice who don’t get enough shut-eye. And maybe in us, too.
- astrocytes are like gardeners for your neural synapses, pruning away bits you don’t use to continually keep your wiring tidy and efficient.
- microglial cells are the garbage collectors, constantly on the lookout for used-up cells and other stuff that could get in the way.
There were three groups of mice in the study. The first group could sleep as long as they wanted, the second group was kept awake an extra eight hours before being allowed to sleep, and the third were kept away for five days to mimic chronic sleep loss. The researchers found that both kinds of glial cells put in destructive overtime in tired mice’s brains.
In the group of well-rested mice, astrocytes were seen to be active in about 6% of a mouse’s synapses….