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CSHL scientists show in unprecedented detail how cortical nerve cells form synapses with neighbors
Date:12/21/2010

Cold Spring Harbor, NY-- Newly published research led by Professor Z. Josh Huang, Ph.D., of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) sheds important new light on how neurons in the developing brain make connections with one another. This activity, called synapse validation, is at the heart of the process by which neural circuits self-assemble, and is directly implicated in pathology that gives rise to devastating neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia.

In the mammalian brain, even in its early stages of postnatal development, the cortex, the seat of cognition, is already an incredibly dense thicket of nerve cells. Throughout the cortex, in tiny spaces much too small too see, myriad neurons of various types are reaching out literally to touch others nearbya prelude to the formation of synapses across which messages can propagate from cell to cell. A single nerve cell can "synapse" with many of its neighbors, at multiple points along the branching cables and filaments called axons and dendrites that emanate from the main nerve cell body. But not every neighbor will make a compatible partner, and validation is about finding the right ones.

It has been understood for some time that synapse formation is activity- or use- dependent. Although the mechanism has remained obscure, the emergence of a synpase has been known to involve some combination of preliminary transmission of messages between two neuronsa kind testing of the compatibility of a connectionand a process called cellular adhesion that brings the two cells into physical contact.

In their new study, published online ahead of print December 13th in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Huang and graduate student Yu Fu used a sophisticated imaging method called two-photon microscopy to observe synapse validation for the first time in living cortical circuits. They focused on a particular type of inhibitory neurons, called GABAergic becau
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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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