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

an axon, "it's searching everything." When it finds a potential partner, it then couples to the neurotransmitter machinery and the presynaptic cell begins to release neurotransmistter, to test the connection. "If the connection is good, then the beta neurexins come in and make a much tighter lock between the two nerve cells at the new synapse."

According to Huang, in comparatively simple model systems such as worms and flies, such connections are thought to be largely genetically hard-wired. "But in vertebrates, delicate structures like the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex probably require a finer system, which can respond to the organism's experiences. In other words, synaptic validation and strengthening is likely to be a learning-based system."

This suggests the connection between neurexins and other cell-adhesion molecules in the brain and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. A mutation in a gene called neurexin-1 and another encoding its receptor, neuroligin, have repeatedly been linked with autism in past studies. "These genes are known to be broadly expressed in many places of the nervous system," says Huang. "But the question is how and why changes in these genes leads to autism. There is some evidence that these changes do alter synapses. Our study suggests that such changes in synaptic adhesion molecules can impact a particular type of GABAergic synapse that has been shown to play an important role in regulating neural network operation."

Huang's CSHL laboratory will continue to explore the functional significance of neurexins and neuroligins in neurocircuits in living animals, and will attempt to relate changes in their expression with behavior.


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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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