Dr. MacVicar is a leader in study of the interactions between nerve cells and the surrounding support cells of the brain (or glia). In 1984, he was the first to show that glia previously thought to be inert can display neuronal-like active ion currents and responses to transmitters. Since then, his research has proven that glia are not just supporting cells, but are active participants in brain activity, both responding to and altering activity of nerve cells.
Dr. MacVicar’s lab has demonstrated that astrocytes – one type of glial cell – can alter cerebral blood flow by directly constricting or dilating blood vessels in the brain. They have also proven how neuro-inflammation acts on another type of glia, called microglia, to disrupt neuronal communication by causing a new form of long-term depression, possibly leading to memory deficits. These studies on glia published in Nature, Science and Neuron have transformed concepts of how brain activity is controlled and on how cerebral blood flow is maintained to support a healthy level of brain activity.
Dr. MacVicar’s lab has also made several groundbreaking discoveries on the changes to nerve cells when stroke occurs by showing that pannexin channels open disrupting nerve cell integrity thereby pointing to new targets for preventing neuronal death during stroke.
His recent work, published in Cell, describes his recent discovery of a key but unexpected neuronal chloride channel that is required for brain edema or swelling and may be a novel therapeutic target to prevent brain damage from traumatic brain injury. His lab also recently discovered that brain pericytes proliferate and migrate into regions of stroke damage to help regenerate cerebral blood vessels in a novel form of brain repair after stroke.