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It takes 2 to tango
Date:12/2/2008

This release is available in German.

Where would we be without our ability to remember important information or, for that matter, to forget irrelevant details? Thanks to the flexibility of the nerve cell's communication units, called synapses, we are good at both. Up to now, only the receiving side of a synapse was believed to play an active role in this reorganization of the brain, which is thought to underlie our ability to learn but also to forget. An incorrect assumption, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried could now show. In the prestigious scientific journal Neuron, they report that the neurotransmitter-releasing part of a synapse dramatically remodels itself in response to electrical stimulation. It may thus make a decisive contribution to the adaptability of the brain to ever-changing environments. (Neuron, November 26, 2008)

Communication is the be-all and end-all of the brain. Every one of the hundred billion nerve cells that comprise our brain is a master of data exchange, with contacts to thousands of neighbouring cells. At these points of contact, known as synapses, the neuronal information flows along a one-way channel; from the upstream cell to the downstream cell. The brain can deal with its complicated tasks only when the nerve cells manage to exchange information at the right time and place via their synapses.

It therefore comes as no surprise that one of the most outstanding attributes of the brain is its great adaptability. This is due to the versatility of the synapses, which, depending on whether they are required or not, can proliferate or are pruned accordingly. Most scientists are of the opinion that this flexible exchange of information is what makes learning and memory possible in the first place.

The two sides of information transmission

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Contact: Dr. Valentin Naegerl
naegerl@neuro.mpg.de
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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