Researchers Identify Glial Cells as Critical Players in the Brain’s Response to Social Stress ​

NEW YORK, August 13, 2019  — Exposure to violence, social conflict, and other stressors increase risk for psychiatric conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Not everyone who experiences significant stress will develop such a response, however, and the cellular and molecular basis for an individual’s underlying resilience or susceptibility to stressful events has remained poorly understood. Now, a newly published paper in the journal eLife from researchers at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The Graduate Center, CUNY suggests that the behavior of oligodendrocytes — the glial cells that produce the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers — plays a critical role in determining whether we succumb to or tolerate stress.
 
“Through our study, we were able to identify brain-region-specific differences in the number of mature oligodendrocytes and in the content of myelin between two groups of mice who were categorized based on their resilience or susceptibility to an identical social-defeat stressor,” said the paper’s corresponding author Jia Liu, a research associate professor with the ASRC’s Neuroscience Initiative. “After repeated exposure to an aggressive mouse, some animals, called “susceptible,” avoided any sort of social interaction with their peers, while others remained resilient and continued to be socially engaged.”

In follow-up brain tissue analysis, the research team detected fewer mature oligodendrocytes and irregular myelin coverage in the medial prefrontal cortex — a brain region that plays a critical role in emotional and cognitive processing — in the susceptible mice. In contrast, healthy numbers of oligodendrocytes and myelin were detected in resilient mice.

The mouse on the left (gray) displays signs of depressive behavior in response to negative social encounters, while the mouse on the right (brown) retains an overall healthy behavior, despite being exposed to the same adverse situation.
The mouse on the left (gray) displays signs of depressive behavior in response to negative social encounters, while the mouse on the right (brown) retains an overall healthy behavior, despite being exposed to the same adverse situation. The divergent behavioral responses were attributed to differences in the oligodendrocyte lineage cells in specialized brain regions. The analysis of the brain of the susceptible mice revealed fewer myelinating oligodendrocytes (purple) and shorter myelinated segments on neurons (blue), while the brain of the resilient mice revealed the presence of a larger number of myelinating oligodendrocytes and longer myelinated segments (orange).  Image credit: Carter Van Eitreim.

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Submitted on: AUG 13, 2019

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