About this Research Topic
Neuropsychiatric diseases are widely ascribed to neuronal malfunction or loss. Although it is well-known that the brain is composed of many different cells types, this neuron-centric view has dominated neuropathology for long time, and almost all pharmacological therapies were designed to restore neuronal functions or ensure their survival. Actually the brain, like all organs, is a multicellular structure, and its operation cannot be perceived by analysis of only one cell type in it or by scrutinizing the function of all brain cells exclusively through the lens of neuronal function.
Nowadays, it has become clear that this is a simplistic view, and growing evidence have challenged this assumption, bringing out the important role exerted by glial cells in the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Glial cells are non-excitable cells of the central nervous system. These cells, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, NG glia and microglia, are a highly heterogeneous population responsible for many important brain functions. While microglia are cells that act as the first form of immune defense in the brain, astrocytes are an essential neuro-supportive cell type in brain. Indeed, astrocytes finely control the environment by regulating pH, ion homeostasis, blood flow, and modulating oxidative stress. In addition, these cells importantly contribute to synaptogenesis and dynamically modulate signal transmission, regulate neural and synaptic plasticity, and provide trophic and metabolic support to neurons. Oligodendrocytes, which form the myelin sheath, entirely regulate the transmission of action potentials through myelinated axons. So these cells profoundly affect the functional connectome of neurons and, by tuning conduction time, oligodendrocytes may provide an important source of adaptive modulation for optimal information processing in complex neural networks.
Given the complexity of their physiological functions, it is reasonable to state that glial cells allow neurons to properly function and that possible alterations or modifications of these cells might underlie the pathogenesis and progression of many diseases. If we consider brain disorders as a homeostatic failure, glial cells cannot be neglected but rather they become primary actors.
It has been demonstrated that glial cells rapidly act in response to several brain injuries. They undergo important changes in their morphology and functioning, which can in turn influence disease course. Such modifications are intricate and heterogeneous, and can be crudely identified as hyperreactivity or atrophy. Further complication arises because these changes often depend on the disease stage and/or cerebral area of observation.
This is a new and, for several aspects, undisclosed field of research. It offers different perspectives to neuroscientists who are working hard to make clearer the role of glial cells in the onset and progression of several neuropsychiatric disorders. Results from these studies could expand our knowledge in neuroscience, and identify alternative pharmacological targets to develop novel and most promising therapies.
In this Research Topic, we would like to collect the newest and most exciting findings about the role of glial cells in the onset and progression of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Keywords: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, microglia, neuropsychiatric disorders, brain
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