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New research sheds light on how the body regulates fundamental neuro-hormone

New research sheds light on fundamental neuro-hormone - 11 February 2014. iStock
News from: University of Bristol

New research has revealed a previously unknown mechanism in the body which regulates a hormone crucial in motivation, stress responses and control of blood pressure, pain and appetite. The breakthrough could be used to design drugs to help fight health problems connected with these functions.

BBSRC-funded researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London found that lactate – essentially lactic acid – causes cells in the brain to release more noradrenaline, a hormone and neurotransmitter which is fundamental for brain function. Without it people struggle to wake up or focus on anything.

Production of lactate can be triggered by muscle use, which reinforces the connection between exercise and positive mental wellbeing.

Lactate was first discovered in sour milk by Swedish chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1780. It is produced naturally by the body, for example when muscles are at work. In the brain, it has always been regarded as an energy source which can be delivered to neurones as fuel to keep them working when brain activity increases.

This research, published today (11 February 2014) in Nature Communications, identifies a secondary function for lactate as a signal between brain cells. It implies that there is an as yet unknown receptor for lactate in the brain which must be present on noradrenaline cells to make them sensitive to lactate.

Professor Sergey Kasparov, from Bristol University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology, said: "Our findings suggest that lactate has more than one incarnation – in addition to its role as an energy source, it is also a signal to neurones to release more noradrenaline."

Dr Anja Teschemacher, also from the University of Bristol, added: "The next big task is to identify the receptor which mediates this effect because this will help to design drugs to block or stimulate this response. If we can regulate the release of noradrenaline – which is absolutely fundamental for brain function – then this could have important implications for the treatment of major health problems such as stress, blood pressure, pain and depression."

Astrocytes, small non-neuronal star-shaped cells in the brain and spinal cord, are the principle source of brain lactate. The discovery that astrocytes communicate directly with neurones opens up a whole new area of pharmacology which has been little explored.

The research was funded by BBSRC, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the Medical Research Council (MRC), and The Wellcome Trust.

ENDS

The paper: 'Lactate-mediated glia-neuronal signaling in the mammalian brain' by F. Tang, S. Lane, A. Korsak, J.F.R. Paton, A.V. Gourine, S. Kasparov & A.G. Teschemacher, in Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4284

About the BHF

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is the nation's heart charity, dedicated to saving lives through pioneering research, patient care, campaigning for change and by providing vital information. But we urgently need help. We rely on donations of time and money to continue our life-saving work. Because together we can beat heart disease. For more information visit  www.bhf.org.uk.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £467M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.