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Microglial white blood cell

A microglial cell (artificially coloured). These cells destroy pathogens in the brain and secrete compounds that stimulate an immune response. Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

Neuroscience

The cells that help cancer drugs to cloud the mind

Microglial cells, which provide immune protection to the nervous system, might have a role in the cognitive impairment known as ‘chemobrain’.

Neurological difficulties induced by some cancer treatments might stem from nervous-system cells called microglia, which promote inflammation.

Some chemotherapies cause a lasting condition known as ‘chemobrain’, which is marked by deficiencies in attention, information processing and fine motor skills. Michelle Monje at Stanford University in California, and her colleagues found that children and young adults treated with a chemotherapy called methotrexate had fewer oligodendrocyte-lineage cells — cells that help to form the crucial insulation around neurons — in their brains than those who had not been exposed to the drug.

Similarly, mice exposed to methotrexate had fewer of these cells than untreated controls. Six months after methotrexate treatment, these mice struggled to distinguish between novel and familiar objects. They also had increased numbers of active microglia.

After exposing the mice to chemotherapy, researchers gave the animals a drug that reduced the numbers of their microglia. This reversed methotrexate’s negative effects on both oligodendrocyte-lineage cells and the animals’ ability to discriminate between novel and familiar objects.

More Research Highlights...

Coloured transmission electron micrograph of two Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria

Genomic analysis identified starch-loving Streptococcus sanguinis bacteria (artificially coloured) in the mouths of modern humans and Neanderthals, but not in chimpanzees’ mouths. Credit: National Infection Service/Science Photo Library

Microbiome

Microbes in Neanderthals’ mouths reveal their carb-laden diet

Gunk on ancient teeth yields bacterial DNA, allowing scientists to trace the oral microbiome’s evolution.
Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space

Data collected by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which launched in 1977, has helped scientists to calculate the density of the interstellar plasma. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Voyager 1 captures faint ripples in the stuff between the stars

The first spacecraft to visit interstellar space has now become the first to make continuous measurements of waves in that remote realm.
Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty

Agriculture

Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
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