Tanycytes: the cells that control body weight and energy balance

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New €10m grant funded by the European Research Council set to fund research project delving more into the knowledge regarding tanycytes.

Having been awarded with a €10m grant, the research group, CiMUS, led by Professor Rubén Nogueiras, from University of Santiago, Spain, will add to the expertise of his partners, the two worldwide expert groups led by Professor Vincent Prévot (Lille, France) and Markus Schwaninger (Lübeck, Germany). The synergy formed between these research groups will produce a greater effect than the sum of the teams functioning separately, investigating more about tanycytes, the cells of our central nervous system, about which barely any information exists.

From such a synergy, a new research project has been born, that being WATCH: Well-Aging and the Tanycytic Control of Health.

What will the grant unlock?

“This grant is a new qualitative leap in our laboratory, it changes everything: the visibility of the group and the center… and of course, it also increases our ability to value our work before our foreign colleagues”. Explains Nogueiras.

Awarded by the European Research Council (ERC), which has recognized the research group among the 27 new grants awarded this year with the new European transnational projects, within the framework of ERC’s Synergy Grants program.

The research approach outlined by the WATCH project is to study tanycytes beyond the perspective of the central nervous system, considering the role that tanycytes could play in their interaction with the peripheral organs.

Scientists propose that tanycytes, could possibly be involved in the relationship between obesity and neurodegenerative illnesses, specifically Alzheimer’s, as some epidemiological studies have already confirmed.

What do you know about tanycytes?

It is known that tanycytes are responsible for supplying neurons with the nutrients and metabolites that are required, however with the exception of some studies published around the 60s and 70s last century, very few groups have investigated them further, mainly because they are a very small cell population (thousands of tanycytes vs millions of neurons).

This singularity, together with an evident lack of knowledge, make these cells look ‘less attractive’ to the scientific community.

Initial data suggest that, introducing certain modifications inside the tanycytes, it is possible to alter some mechanisms that regulate body weight. Therefore, on the basis of this information the project concentrates on the following:

  • The identification and characterisation of tanycyte populations
  • To explore the ability to intervene on the internal mechanisms of these cells to modify body weight
  • To find out whether it is feasible to progress or mitigate Alzheimer’s signs in elder animal models through the manipulation of tanycytes.

The greater the challenge, the greater the success

This study will represent one of the greatest technical challenges in the upcoming years, as the visualisation of brain’s specific deep areas constitutes a great magnitude goal, which scientists expect to reach along the project.

Scheduled to start in January 2019, the WATCH project will step into a new and unexplored line of research up to date, since it faces the study of tanycytes as cells much more valuable than what it has been considered so far.

Nogueiras concludes: “Thinking from a translational point of view, we believe that reaching these cells will be easier than crossing all the barriers that exist in our body.”

“We will not be able to develop a drug -because in six years it is impossible-, but we expect to find new therapeutic targets on which a potential drug could act”.

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