The role of astrocytes and their impact on the development of depression

In Poland, according to the National Health Fund (NFZ), approximately 1.2 million people suffer from depression*. In the world it is over 280 million (WHO data**)! Despite the adopted treatment regimens, physicians and scientists are still looking for answers to the questions:

  • what impact do genes have on the development of this disease, and how much does it depend on environmental factors?
  • as a result of what biochemical processes does this disease develop in the body? Thanks to the research work of Dr. Michał Ślęzak and his Biology of Astrocytes Research Group at Łukasiewicz – PORT, we are getting closer to finding the answers to these questions.

The Biology of Astrocytes Research Group has been conducting research for 3 years on determining the role of astrocytes–a type of cells in the brain–in the mechanisms of neural network disorders related to depression.

The role of astrocytes and their impact on the development of depression has been underestimated so far. However, our research indicates an important role of these cells in mediating the central effects of “stress hormones”, i.e. glucocorticoids, which regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in our body. The results of our work indicate that stress-induced disorders of glucocorticoid signaling lead to impairment of many astrocyte functions, which may ultimately lead to incorrect operation of neurons in brain centers responsible for e.g. emotions or social behavior”, explains Dr. Michał Ślęzak.

Currently, in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich and the Paris Institute for Brain Research, as part of the #SAMENeuro-ID project, we are conducting research aimed at translating our existing knowledge into new strategies for depression therapy. In particular, we examine how specific genes regulate stress-induced changes in social behavior. At the molecular level: we generate human nerve cells (such as astrocytes and neurons) to observe how specific variants of genes related to the stress response change the biochemical parameters of these cells”.

Most scientists focus on different types of neurons and neurotransmitters in their research. At Łukasiewicz – PORT, we take a closer look at cells whose impact on the development of depression has not yet been studied, believing that this will expand general knowledge about this disease and will also lead to a significant breakthrough in its treatment.

* Link to 2023 data:

**2022 Report: