ул. А.Невского, д.14
We are launching a series of articles dedicated to the priority research areas of the IKBFU. The text below is a summary of the interview we conducted with Dr. Vitaliy Kasymov, formerly of University College London. Dr. Kasymov returned to Russia in the beginning of 2014 and joined the IKBFU faculty to head the neurobiology and medical physics lab and lead one of the most ambitious neuroscience projects at the university.
Enter Vitaliy Kasymov:
“Our main goal is the study of astrocytes. These are brain cells that, until now, were regarded as nothing more than a layer of feeders to neutrons. That is, they were believed to exist with a sole purpose of supporting neutrons, not more than that. But in the last decade some evidence has emerged pointing to some sensory functions of astrocytes: we now think that they transmit sensory information to neurons, and these, not unlike your cable wire, send the data further.
In 2010 my colleagues and I published a paper in the Science magazine, where we demonstrated that the astrocytes residing near the ventral surface of the brainstem respond to the increases of CO2 and decreases in pH, “inform” the neurons of the fact, and that neurons, in turn, transmit the information to the diaphragm prompting deeper and more frequent intakes of breath in a person.
Today, I am still working in this direction, expanding my field of research. The big project that my laboratory is actively pursuing is developing a functional map of brain astrocytes.
There used to be a universal belief that, across the brain, astrocytes are identical in shape, morphology and function. While they may be similar morphologically (although not too similar, to be honest), they are quite different from the functional perspective. We sequence astrocytes residing in different parts of the brain, and use a confocal microscopy technique to look at the functional side of things.
I have just come back from a big neuronal conference in the USA. Out of almost 45 thousand neurotechnology researchers who shared the results of their work at the congress, none were engaged in any astrocyte-related projects. It is safe to say that, around the world – in China, in Europe, and in the US – most of brain researchers are channeling their efforts into studying neurons. With our astrocyte mapping, we are truly unique."
This is a translated summary of the interview that was originally published in Russian. You can read the full interview here.