If you know anyone who seems to be easily distracted, prone to silly mistakes, and loses their valuables easily. One who can’t seem to stick to any task for a long time without quickly losing interest, and oftentimes fails to carry out instructions properly.
Or perhaps, you had come across those who would, for instance, walk into a busy photocopier shop and begin to complain about the crowd even before they had settled down. Then, they stand up and leave, return again and sat down. A few moments later, you catch them tapping their fingers on their laps or fidgeting. They appear like they can’t wait their turn to make their photocopy.
If you have, or maybe it could have been yourself, then you probably have an idea of what attention deficit is about. It is a chronic mental condition that presents an array of problems related to attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is becoming a huge problem and scientists have made extensive researches on it, yet the cause of this disorder still hasn’t seen the light of day.
A report published in a journal suggests that astrocytes, a particular type of brain cells, may aid in the control of attention deficit problems. Astrocytes were once believed to be exclusively involved with vegetative and sustenance functions in neurons until recently when Baljit Khakh led a research into astrocytes.
Khakh was a professor of Physiology and neurobiology. In a previous research, his team showed that repetitive behaviors like those in obsessive-compulsive disorder were determined by the regulatory function of astrocytes in the striatum of the brain. The striatum is a part of the brain which is involved with a number of executive, cognitive and motor abilities.
In this recent study, Khakh and his team now sought to assess the effects of astrocytes on networks of neurons. But in the course of the new research, something unexpected was discovered by chance! The team happened to, perhaps, unravel how astrocyte signaling in the striatum also affects behaviours likened to attention deficit.
The team approached the research by employing a means which would increase the calcium signals in the astrocyte of mice. The adult mice had the astrocytes in their striatum incorporated with a specific type of receptor. A chemical which stimulated the receptor was Introduced, which greatly improved calcium levels in the astrocytes.
To examine how this alteration affected the behavior of these mice, each of them was put in an open area and allowed to browse. The treated animals exerted more activity than the others which tended to explore through much shorter distance. At first the greater level of activity seen in the treated ones was thought to be due to certain alterations in motor functions, but it was later shown that both classes of mices reacted similarly to motor requirements.
On close examination of their behaviours, the treated ones were found to also display an apparent lack of attention in specific behavioral areas, such as change in the amount of light and the presence of other new objects, in their surroundings, the way normal mice do. The team of researchers, then likened this behaviour to an attention deficit problem. This discovery formed the basis of the brain’s support network.
Subsequently, the research team made further inquiries into molecular changes which had probably affected the activity of the neurons, resulting in vivid changes in the mice. It was found that it was the release of the neurotransmitter GABA by the neurons of the striatum that led to a significant boost in astrocytes’ calcium levels; of which the boost in calcium levels in the astrocytes, perhaps altered the expression of a particular gene which coded for certain executive functions.
Consequently, the team of researchers strongly suggested that astrocytes can alter neurons to drive complex behavioural traits and characteristics, while also suspecting that this knowledge could be exploited to treat behaviours associated with mental illness using astrocytes.