In some cells of the brain, after the death of a person, the activity of genes increases – and these cells increase to impressive sizes. This discovery was made by biologists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, their article was published in the issue of Scientific Reports.
The authors analyzed the state of fresh neocortex samples collected during routine brain surgery within 24 hours of “death”. At room temperature, changes were monitored at the cellular level depending on the time interval after “death”.
It turned out that “zombie genes” work in specific microglial cells (collective name for macrophage cells of the central nervous system), which are primarily engaged in cleaning their “zone of responsibility” from harmful substances and damage during strokes, oxygen starvation, and so on.
During the study, the authors noticed that these cells grow and release long shoots even many hours after the death of the host. The peak of posthumous changes occurs, according to their data, in about 12 hours.
In general, after death, a selective and rapid decrease in the expression of genes that regulate neuronal activity (thinking, memory, etc.) occurs for several hours after death. At the same time, the activity of the genes for “house cleaning”, which are responsible for basic regulation in the tissue, is relatively preserved, while the genes that regulate the work of glial cells are most active.
Scientists were not surprised by this discovery: if we take into account the function of glial cells, after the death of the host, the damage they are trying to repair grows exponentially – they have something to do.
Postmortem studies of brain tissue are important for finding therapies and potential cures for Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other pathologies.