How do developing brain blood vessels and nerves link up? New study has some answers.

September 1, 2023

 “These findings help us better understand the role astrocytes play in early brain development,”- Dr. Baptiste LacosteDr. Baptiste Lacoste is fascinated by how blood vessels in the brain contribute to brain and mind health. The brain needs a steady supply of blood, and support cells called astrocytes bridge the gap between nerves and blood vessels. 

Astrocytes help shape blood vessels in early development, and later control blood flow to the nerves. Getting these connections right during the first few weeks of life is crucial for proper brain function, but exactly how it happens is unclear. 

Dr. Lacoste’s team is the first to show that the protein called HMGB1 plays a key role in forming and growing these early connections between astrocytes and blood vessels. Their results published in Nature Communications show that astrocytes produce a lot of this nuclear protein right after birth. 

By blocking the production of HMGB1 in newborn mouse astrocytes, the team found that the protein controls how astrocytes grow and connect to blood vessels, and also plays a role in how blood vessels grow and mature. Surprisingly, mice without HMGB1 in astrocytes at birth had anxiety-like behaviours as adults. This new information can help researchers better understand how the brain develops. 

 “These findings help us better understand the role astrocytes play in early brain development,” said Dr. Baptiste Lacoste, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Authors: Moises Freitas-Andrade, Cesar H. Comin, Peter Van Dyken, Julie Ouellette, Joanna Raman-Nair, Nicole Blakeley, Qing Yan Liu, Sonia Leclerc, Youlian Pan, Ziying Liu, Micaël Carrier, Karan Thakur, Alexandre Savard, Gareth M. Rurak, Marie-Ève Tremblay, Natalina Salmaso, Luciano Da F. Costa, Gianfilippo Coppola, Baptiste Lacoste.

Funding: This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, and Fonds de recherche du Québec.  All research at The Ottawa Hospital is also enabled by generous donors to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

Core resources: uOttawa Transmission Electron Microscopy Core Facility and Animal Behaviour and Physiology Core

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa and supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.