Adaptive regulation of the brain's antioxidant defences by neurons and astrocytes

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Abstract

The human brain generally remains structurally and functionally sound for many decades, despite the post-mitotic and non-regenerative nature of neurons. This is testament to the brain's profound capacity for homeostasis: both neurons and glia have in-built mechanisms that enable them to mount adaptive or protective responses to potentially challenging situations, ensuring that cellular viability and functionality is maintained. The high and variable metabolic and mitochondrial activity of neurons places several demands on the brain, including the task of neutralizing the associated reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced, to limit the accumulation of oxidative damage. Astrocytes play a key role in providing antioxidant support to nearby neurons, and redox regulation of the astrocytic Nrf2 pathway represents a powerful homeostatic regulator of the large cohort of Nrf2-regulated antioxidant genes that they express. In contrast, the Nrf2 pathway is weak in neurons, robbing them of this particular homeostatic device. However, many neuronal antioxidant genes are controlled by synaptic activity, enabling activity-dependent increases in ROS production to be offset by enhanced antioxidant capacity of both glutathione and thioredoxin-peroxiredoxin systems. These distinct homeostatic mechanisms in neurons and astrocytes together combine to promote neuronal resistance to oxidative insults. Future investigations into signaling between distinct cell types within the neuro-glial unit are likely to uncover further mechanisms underlying redox homeostasis in the brain.

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