News on working memory

Glia cells are the Cinderella’s of neuroscience – mostly ignored but sometimes making it, to be the hit of the party. In the cortex, the neurons live in a sea of glia cells. Lately there is another hint that they have important functions, an item in the Scientific American (here) says they are important to working memory. It may also explain stoned-type-logic-thinking.

To study how marijuana impairs working memory, Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues removed cannabinoid receptors—proteins that respond to marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient THC—from neurons in mice. These mice, it turned out, were just as forgetful as regular mice when given THC: they were equally poor at memorizing the position of a hidden platform in a water pool. When the receptors were removed from astrocytes, however, the mice could find the platform just fine while on THC. … this is one of the first studies to suggest that glia play a key role in conscious thought. “It’s very likely that astrocytes have many more functions than we thought,” Marsicano says. “Certainly their role in cognition is now being revealed.”

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