Researchers at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) and another five Brazilian Federal Universities published one of the first studies to categorically observe an inflammatory reaction in human astrocytes created in the laboratory. Specifically, it has been observed that astrocytes, neural cells with many important functions in the nervous system, begin a process called astrogliosis, a process when the inflammation of these cells occurs in the brain involving infections and neurodegenerative disorders.

What is Astrogliosis?

Unfamiliar to most, this is an inflammatory process common to several diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and congenital malformations caused by the Zika virus. Although well studied in the neuroscience field, most of the knowledge came from animal models, an experimental strategy that contributes to scientific advancement, but doesn’t reproduce human brain complexity.

The Study

The research coordinator and scientist at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and IDOR, Stevens Rehen, adopted a cell culture procedure that is already signature in several studies on the human brain—including the development of brain organoids that helped correlate Zika virus infection to the onset of microcephaly. 

The method used by Rehn’s team is the reprogramming of human cells found in the urine of voluntary donors, turning them into pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells are then stimulated to become healthy astrocytes or any other human cell necessary for the research at the time. In this case, from the creation of the astrocytes, the scientists have put these cells to react with an inflammatory protein, known as TNF, obtaining a map of the human astrogliosis in the laboratory. The observed results indicate that the inflammation process already occurs within the first hour, and it gradually impairs astrocytes function over time.


The morphological changes of these cells, which start to evidence smaller nuclei and stretched shapes come along with the inflammation inferred with the primary function of astrocytes: the regulation of neurotransmitters, that are substances secreted by neurons responsible for information transmission across synapses. The study identified that human astrocytes under astrogliosis evidenced impairment in the glutamate uptake. They noted the glutamate is the most important stimulatory neurotransmitter involved in many brain functions including learning and memory.

The publication is a highlight in studies about astrogliosis, since the approach allowed scientists to analyze the phenomenon in a non-invasive way using human cells. The researchers point out that the evidence and methods from this study can serve as a basis for other investigations, including those aimed at discovering new treatments, which can improve the quality of life of people suffering from brain inflammation triggered by infections or neurodegenerative diseases.

D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR)

The D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) is a non-profit organization born from the enthusiasm of its founders, who envisioned the creation of a state-of-the-art institution, aligned with the latest technologies and addressed to the global development in the health sector. To this end, IDOR presents connected pillars, which range from scientific research to courses and training for health professionals, also including analyzes of implementations, technologies, and improvements for the hospital environment.

Active since 2010, IDOR brings together a team of specialist researchers and educators equally qualified for teaching in the health sphere, expertise that is shared through doctoral, postgraduate and undergraduate courses, among others. IDOR also has an initiative aimed at open innovation, the Open D’Or Healthcare Innovation Hub, a platform for joint action with the Digital Transformation sector at Rede D’Or São Luiz (RDSL), the largest private hospitals company in Brazil and the institute’s main maintainer.

IDOR’s modern infrastructure also offers state-of-the-art laboratories and a stimulating environment for the work and scientific production of its more than 100 employees. Our research involves multidisciplinary teams and is integrated both in teaching and in clinical practice. The originality of this model allows students to have the opportunity to complement their learning and ensures that researchers can transfer knowledge obtained in the laboratory to real clinical care, in a network that has more than 6,600 operational beds and over 30 oncology clinics.

Research Areas

IDOR concentrates its research on five strategic axes, covering the areas of neuroscience, oncology, internal medicine, intensive care medicine, and pediatrics. In addition, the institute maintains connections of scientific cooperation and academic partnership with the most important Brazilian institutions and establishes partnerships with several institutions in more than 60 countries, including the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Stanford University in the United States, among many others.

With a young and successful history, IDOR is already emerging as a point of reference in research and scientific production in Brazil. Covering relevant sectors of the medical field, its researchers and students have published over 700 articles in international scientific journals, with over 4,000 citations in the last year. IDOR played a prominent role, for example, in the multi-institutional effort that established the causal correlation between the Zika virus and the increased occurrence of microcephaly in Brazil, in 2016. It was also the pioneer in Latin America in the creation of reprogrammed stem cells from the urine of patients, a promising and noninvasive method for disease study and testing of new drugs.

Lead Research/Investigator

Stevens Rehen, IDOR

Pablo Trindade, first author of study

Source: EurekAlert!

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