According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Northwestern Medicine have uncovered how octopamine, the major “fight-or-flight” neurotransmitter in invertebrates, communicates with other cells in mammalian brains to prevent cell death.
The mammalian brain still contains some octopamine, but epinephrine now serves the same purpose. Thought for a long time to be an evolutionary relic in mammals, octopamine’s function in the human brain was not well understood until recently.
The primary goal of the current study was to learn how astrocytes, the most numerous cell type in the human CNS, contribute to brain dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases.
Researchers found that octopamine, when introduced to astrocyte cultures from the cerebral cortex of mice, stimulated the production of lactate in the astrocytes, thereby promoting cell survival.
Alzheimer’s disease has been linked to abnormally high or low levels of octopamine in the brain, so these findings could inform future treatments for that condition.