Billions of brain cells are communicating at any given moment. Like an organic supercomputer they keep everything going, from breathing to solving riddles, and "programming errors" can lead to serious conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The brain uses biochemical signal molecules
Nowadays the biochemical language of the nerve cells is the subject of intensive research right down at the molecular level, and for the first time researchers, some from the University of Copenhagen, have described just how nerve cells are capable of transmitting signals practically simultaneously.
The cells of the nervous system communicate using small molecule neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin. Dopamine is associated with cognitive functions such as memory, serotonin with mood control, and noradrenaline with attention and arousal.
The brain cell communication network, the synapses, transmit messages via chemical neurotransmitters packaged in small containers (vesicles) waiting at the nerve ends of the synapses. An electrical signal causes the containers and membrane to fuse and the neurotransmitters flow from the nerve ending to be captured by other nerve cells. This occurs with immense rapidity in a faction of a millisecond.
The vesicle uses three copies of the "linking bridge"
Researchers from the Universities of Copenhagen, Gttingen and Amsterdam have been studying the complex organic protein complexes that link vesicles and membrane prior to fusion, in order to find an explanation for the rapidity of these transmissions. They have discovered that the vesicle contains no fewer than three copies of the linking bridge or "SNARE complex".
With only one SNARE complex the vesicle takes longer to fuse with the membrane and the neurotransmitter is therefore secreted more slowly.
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|Contact: Jakob Balslev Sorensen|
University of Copenhagen