Brain cells known as neurons process information by joining into complex networks, transmitting signals to each other across junctions called synapses. But neurons dont just connect to other neurons, emphasizes Z. Josh Huang, Ph.D., in a lot of cases, they connect to very specific partners, at particular spots.
Dr. Huang, a professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), leads a team that has identified molecules guiding this highly specific neuronal targeting in the developing brains of mice. The researchers report in PLoS Biology that in some cases, these molecular guides -- non-signaling brain cells known as glia -- form a kind of scaffold. This scaffold, in turn, directs the growth of nerve fibers and their connections between specific types of neurons.
As they learn through research like this how the brain develops its complex wiring, the scientists hope they can clarify what goes wrong in disorders like autism.
The Cerebellums Organized Architecture
Distinctive wiring patterns are unmistakable in the cerebellum, a brain region best known for controlling movement, in both mice and people. Compared to regions involved in more sophisticated functions like vision and thought, the cerebellum is an easier place to start, because of its very organized architecture, Dr. Huang says, although he notes that other parts of the brain have their own specific wiring patterns.
Central to the wiring architecture of the cerebellum are so-called Purkinje cells, a type of neuron that deploys a bushy array of fibers called dendrites that extend through layers of cerebellar territory. The dendrites gather signals from many other neurons in the cerebellum and send signals to other parts of the body.
The complex wiring pattern emerges during the early growth of the brain, when individual neurons migrate from their places of origin in other brain regions and emit filaments called axons that connect to particular p
|Contact: Jim Bono|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory