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New sequencing technology helps researchers understand brain cell development

Shown here in red, astrocytes comprise the majority of cells found in the brain and aid in proper brain function and development. Using the Biocomplexity Institute's Illumina NovaSeq 6000, Michelle Olsen has been able to pinpoint the timing of astrocyte development. Photo Credit: Jonathan Cohen/NIH

Michelle Olsen, Neuroscience's associate professor, is making use of next-generation sequencing opportunities available at the Biocomplexity Institute’s Genomics Sequencing Center (GSC) to peer more deeply into the inner workings of astrocytes. With the GSC’s new Illumina NovaSeq 6000, the development of astrocytes can be studied at a granular level.

Glial cells, particularly astrocytes, outnumber neurons in the brain. Astrocytes touch every part of the brain, their star-shaped fingers reaching into the innermost recesses of that organ. They serve the important function of clearing glutamate, a chemical byproduct of synaptic response, from neurons. If the astrocyte cannot clear the glutamate, neurons can become overstimulated, leading to diseases like epilepsy, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s. They are therefore important to behavior, cognition, and autonomic function, like breathing.

Only in the past few years, however, has the importance of astrocytes been truly recognized. Researchers are now delving more deeply into their function and development.

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