HOUSTON, June 24, 2010 Many diseases of brain function, such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, are caused by problems in how neurons communicate with each other. A University of Houston (UH) researcher and his team are analyzing these commands and connections in an attempt to prevent those diseases.
Dr. Jan-ke Gustafsson, Robert A. Welch Professor in UH's biology and biochemistry department, describes his team's findings in a paper titled "Liver X receptor β and thyroid hormone receptor α in brain cortical layering," appearing in the current online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serials.
"The brain works like a computer," said Gustafsson, who also is director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at UH. "We know something about the hard wire, but so far we know nothing about 'wireless connections.' Our work is about how and when the components of the 'computer' are assembled and how the connections between the components are made."
The brain is composed of brain cells, called neurons, which are placed in the correct position in the brain during fetal and infant development. The neurons move with military precision to their correct places just like soldiers in a military parade, except the ranks are referred to as layers. If any of the neurons fail to make the correct move then there will be gaps in the formation of the cortex, which is the outer brain layer. Any distractions that slow down or speed up the neurons will cause a problem with the formation of the cortex. Normally, the neurons obey several commands that come from the environment, hormones and other nearby neurons.
"Like a computer, such connections determine how fast we think and how good our memories are, but also whether we will develop diseases like epilepsy or schizophrenia," he said. "Since the commands to the neurons
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