A fundamental new discovery about how nerve cells in the brain store and release tiny sacs filled with chemicals may radically alter the way scientists think about neurotransmission the electrical signaling in the brain that enables everything from the way we move, to how we remember and sense the world.
According to the scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) who conducted the research, the discovery doesn't change the players involved so much as it reveals that the rules of the game are very different than previously assumed. Better understanding these rules may help researchers find new ways of addressing neurological diseases like Parkinson's, which may arise in part because these normal brain processes go awry.
The players in question are known as vesicles tiny sacs filled with neurotransmitters, the chemicals that neurons release to transmit a signal to the next neuron in the circuit.
Scientists have known about these vesicles and the important role they play in brain function for decades, but mystery remained because there appear to be two distinct pools of vesicles, with no understanding of what accounts for the distinction. All the tiny vesicles in an average neuron look the same, even to a trained eye peering through a powerful microscope the same way a bunch of players wearing the same color on a given field of play would seem to belong to the same team.
In the journal Neuron this month UCSF professor Robert Edwards and his colleagues present the first evidence that, despite their appearance, vesicles in the two pools have distinct identities and fates, which are defined by the particular proteins on their surfaces.
"They look identical, but they contain different proteins," Edwards said.
How the Brain Transmits Information
Neurons, which make up the white matter in the brain and the nerves that run throughout the body, are basically just s
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University of California - San Francisco