Our brain typically has our backs when it comes to our daily functions. But according to new research, a cell inside our brain could be a perpetuator for disease.

Astrocytes are cells in the brain that maintain  “the blood-brain barrier, removing excess neurotransmitters, repairing brain tissue and more,” but what if a different type of astrocyte indicated problems instead: ieAstrocytes.

ieAstrocytes are found to jump in population when diseases that cause brain inflammation are present (such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis).  These cells are found immediately as inflammation occurs, which inspired their name of “immediate early” astrocytes. Interestingly enough, cells that are supposed to assist in immune function and healing aren’t found to be active.

“There is an urgent need for treatments of brain inflammation disorders that are involved in many diseases…developing therapies that prevent the formation of ieAstrocytes or reduce their activation levels in the brain could offer new approaches for treating neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases,” stated Jerold Chun, M.D., Ph.D., and author of the study.

As they tracked cell activity in the brain as inflammation increased, they found that immune cells stayed deactivated and that ieAstrocytes increased as inflammation progressed, which is concerning, since the cells are showing no obvious benefit.

“This is a departure from our previous understanding that astrocytes are spectator cells, only ‘moving to the dark side’ once initial damage [to the brain] has occurred…greater understanding of ieAstrocytes could unlock more of the brain’s mysteries….[and] can help to guide therapeutic development using a readout that tracks with a brain disease,” stated Chun.