Brain inflammation is a marker of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and some psychiatric disorders. A new study finds a subtype of brain cell that is key in neuroinflammation, bringing us closer to new treatments for multiple central nervous system diseases.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects at least 2 millionpeople worldwide.Recent estimates suggest that 1 million people in the United States live with the condition.

The autoimmune condition causes inflammationof the central nervous system, as the immune system attacks the insulating layer of myelinprotecting neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

However, neuroinflammation does not only characterize MS; recent studies show that depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorderare also linked to dysfunctions in the immune response, in addition to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Now, new research has furthered our understanding of this inflammatory process. Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) in San Diego, CA, have found that a subtype of astrocytes — that is, star-shaped, non-neuronal brain cells that support the good functioning of neurons — play a key role in the early onset of brain inflammation.

Dr. Jerold Chun, the senior vice president of Neuroscience Drug Discovery at SBP, led the research, which was just published in the journal eNeuro.