Cited research Science doi:10.1126/science.1190721 (2010)

Long thought simply to provide support to neurons, star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes may also be important in regulating breathing.

Alexander Gourine at University College London, Sergey Kasparov at the University of Bristol, UK, and their colleagues engineered rats in which they could control and monitor astrocyte activity. They found that astrocytes can sense pH changes in the blood, which result from changes in carbon dioxide levels. On detecting these pH shifts, the astrocytes release the small molecule ATP. The team thinks that this ATP stimulates respiratory neurons to enhance breathing.