Neuroscientists have long been trying to determine what happens in the brain during sleep, but to date, they have overlooked a key player: astrocytes. These star-shaped cells were once thought to be the glue that held the brain together, but we are now beginning to appreciate their importance in a variety of brain functions. In this episode, host Lauren Richardson talks to Kira Poskanzer, Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, about her group’s work showing that neurons are only one piece of the larger sleep puzzle. The conversation covers the complexity of sleep, how astrocytes control two key attributes of sleep (depth and duration), the technology and methods employed to uncover this novel mode of regulation, and how appreciating the role of astrocytes in governing sleep could lead to new insights into neuropsychiatric conditions and how to treat them.
The article at the center of today’s episode is: “Cortical astrocytes independently regulate sleep depth and duration via separate GPCR pathways” by Trisha V Vaidyanathan, Max Collard, Sae Yokoyama, Michael E Reitman, and Kira E Poskanzer, published in eLife.