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Scientists discover a molecular scaffold that guides connections between brain cells
Date:5/20/2008

arts of other neurons, such as the dendrites. Dr. Huang likens this process to the address on a letter that brings it from another country directly to your door by specifying the country, state, city, street, and house number. He and other brain researchers have learned much about the higher levels of this addressing scheme, identifying, for instance, chemical signals that guide axons to the right section of the brain, and different signals that lead them to the appropriate layer within that section.

How Neurons Form Synapses

Only recently, however, have Dr. Huang and his colleagues traced the chemical signals leading neurons to form synapses with specific parts of other neurons. Such sub-cellular specificity is critical to ensure the precision and reliability of communication among neurons. Synapses are the tiny gaps across which nerve cells exchange signals, conveyed by chemicals called neurotransmitters.

A few years ago, Dr. Huangs team established that a protein from the immunoglobulin family directs one group of cerebellar neurons to connect with a specific part of Purkinje cells. Immunoglobulin proteins are best known for acting as antibodies in the immune system, where they take on myriad forms to attack new invaders. Here, however, they are observed to be involved in the wiring of the brain.

The striking feature is that there is a lot of capacity for variety in immunoglobulin molecules, Dr. Huang explains. In the nervous system, their versatility may help them guide cells to form synapses with specific partners. Intriguingly, Dr. Huang adds, immunoglobulins have been implicated in neural developmental disorders, such as autism. There is good evidence that these disorders involve miswiring of the nervous system, Dr. Huang says, which may reflect a problem with immunoglobulin-guided synapse formation.

A Guiding Scaffold Made of Glial Cells

In the work reported in their newly published p
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Contact: Jim Bono
bono@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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