Our research explained
About the brain
PREMSTEM research and the brain
Many of PREMSTEM’s researchers are experts in disorders related to the brain, such as cerebral palsy, and together bring years of experience studying different types of brain injury to the project. As a team, we’re trying to find a new therapy to reduce the effects of brain damage sometimes suffered by preterm babies.
On this page we share our interest in the brain – one of the body’s largest and most complex organs!
What is the structure of the brain?
The brain consists of different parts with different functions. They work together to allow us to perform different types of task, from standing up to breathing – tasks the average person does without even thinking.
- Cortex: The outermost layer of brain cells, the cortex is where thinking and voluntary movements originate.
- Brain stem: Between the spinal cord and the rest of the brain, the brain stem controls basic functions like breathing and sleep.
- Basal ganglia: A cluster of structures in the centre of the brain that coordinates messages between other areas of the brain.
- Cerebellum: At the base and back of the brain, the cerebellum is responsible for coordination and balance.
The brain’s four lobes are also involved in different types of everyday task and bodily function.
- Frontal lobes: Problem solving and judgement, motor function.
- Parietal lobes: Sensation, handwriting, body position.
- Temporal lobes: Memory, hearing.
- Occipital lobes: The location of the brain’s visual processing system.
Why is the brain vulnerable?
We all know that the brain is an important organ in our body. It’s also a very delicate and vulnerable one! To find out why, we’ve profiled different types of cell in the brain to find out what they do – and why a preterm birth can be disruptive to their development.
Bergmann glia are a type of astrocyte found alongside the Purkinje cells in the cerebellum. Bergman glia are numerous, outnumbering Purkinje cells 8 to 1! Bergmann glia play a role in the migration of granule cells up to the granule layer early in the development of the cerebellum. Like other astrocytes, Bergman glia play a supportive role to neurons and help to regulate the brain’s oxygen supply. They help to optimise the information processing and carry out housekeeping activities. They are also thought to be important for neuroprotection, playing a part in controlling calcium levels in the brain. Calcium imbalance has been linked to neurodegeneration and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Studies of brain injury related to preterm birth have shown that Bergman glia are also vulnerable to injury – with decreased number and altered shape and size.
Did you know?
A look inside the brain - images from the PREMSTEM labs
Image 1 shows different brain cells: microglia in red, astrocytes in green, and neurons in purple with blue used as a counterstain. Credit: Chantal Kosmeijer, UMC Utrecht
Image 2 shows neural stem cells differentiated in vitro towards neurons which form networks in a dish, with blue used as a counterstain. Credit: Sara de Palma, UMC Utrecht
Image 3 is a montage created using MRI showing hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. Credit: Sara de Palma and group of Rick Dijkhuizen (Annette van der Toorn and Geralda van Tilborg), UMC Utrecht
Image 4 shows hippocampal neurons after hyperoxia, a state where there is too much oxygen, cultured together with human mesenchymal stem cells (h-MSCs). Credit: Meray Sendar, Universitätsmedizin Essen
Image 5 shows mitochondria inside a single microglia cell. Credit: Syam Nair, University of Gothenburg
Take a look at our fact sheet on preterm birth and brain injury, available to download in nine languages.
For more brain facts, check out the following websites: