Roles of Glia in Neural Aging

2023 Seed Grant
Aakanksha Singhvi, Ph.D.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center

The brain has two cell-types in about equal numbers, glia and neurons. Studies in the recent past have unequivocally shown that interactions between these two cell-types is essential for the nervous system to work effectively. Indeed, defects in glia function, or ability of glia and neurons to communicate properly is implicated in a growing list of neurological disease. However, despite the growing body of evidence for their roles in brain functions, glia functions remain poorly understood molecularly. For neuroscience, this is like seeing only half a master’s painting or missing out on half a mystery novel!

To speed track molecular studies on glia, Dr. Singhvi previously helped establish C. elegans, a small nematode worm as a powerful experimental platform. This tractable genetic model presents strong technical advantages for glia research, including the ability to do exquisitely precise single-cell studies in freely behaving animals. Dr. Singhvi’s lab’s work thus far has already identified multiple molecular insights, including striking molecular diversity in glia and glia-neuron interactions across the animal’s nervous system and by sex.

They also find that glia-neuron interactions track animal age, suggesting that glia may also contribute to nervous system aging. To define this molecularly, we will systematically examine glial functions with age at three levels of organization: a neuron, a neural circuit, and brain-wide. Taken with their prior work, these studies will also uncover if diversity in glia across the nervous system may contribute to the variability we see in aging or neurodegeneration across brain regions and individuals.

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