Navigation Links
First real-time view of developing neurons reveals surprises, say Stanford researchers

Scientists have believed that neurons need a long period of fine-tuning and training with other neurons before they take on their adult role. But after using new technology for the first time to watch these cells develop, a team of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that neurons come into this world with a good idea about what they'll become as adults.

The work, which is detailed in a paper in the March 24 issue of Neuron, took place in the brain of a small see-through fish called a zebra fish. Stephen Smith, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, and graduate student Christopher Niell immobilized a young fish at an age when the nerves first grow from the eye to reach the brain. Then, with the aid of a 6-foot-long laser and some fancy microscopy, the researchers were able to watch individual neurons as they matured in real time.

The pair specifically monitored hundreds of neurons in the region of the brain that respond to images. Niell set up a tiny LCD screen showing squares the size of the fish's favorite planktonic food moving up and down or left and right.

They expected to find that young neurons fire in response to a variety of different images, then refine their role over time so that in the adult fish the neurons only respond to images moving in a certain direction or near the left or right side of the visual field.

What they found was a surprise. As soon as the neurons were old enough to respond to the LCD screen, they specifically fired when they sensed only one type of movement. When the tiny square moved left to right, a distinct population of neurons turned fluorescent colors to indicate their activity. Moving the square the reverse direction triggered a different population of neurons to light up.

"At first we felt like we let some air out of our own tires with this finding," said Smith. His previous work had supported the prevailing idea that neurons need a period of fine -tuning before establishing their final identity.

Still, the experiments mark the first time researchers have been able to watch neurons in an entire region of the brain as they fire one by one in real time. The technical savvy involved in monitoring neurons will allow researchers to conduct experiments that were previously not possible.

While the research showed neurons firing in a more mature way than expected, it also revealed that neurons take their time establishing the final wiring of the brain. Young neurons send out branches in all directions in the hopes that some branches will connect to other neurons and form synapses that transfer information. As the neuron matures, some of these branches form stable synapses while others recede. This trial-and-error process is what establishes the final interconnected mesh of the brain.

Because the group could see the full branching structure of a neuron each time it fired, they could watch the branches grow and recede like a tree waving in the wind, losing the occasional twig. Over time, the network of branches stabilized into the mature form.

"We're looking at a dynamic process that nobody has ever seen before," Smith said.

Understanding how neurons mature into their adult role goes beyond zebra fish and their ability to see their eventual planktonic prey. "Probably these same processes are happening in our own brains all the time," Niell said. When people learn new skills or add memories to their overstuffed brains, new connections are required to retain that information.

Some diseases also seem to be caused by brain connections not forming normally. Dyslexia, for example, may be caused by connections failing to form between certain brain regions, whereas schizophrenia may result from too many connections forming.

What's more, any cure for spinal cord injuries will require new neurons to form the appropriate connections.


Source:Stanford University Medical Center

Related biology news :

1. Timing is everything: First step in protein building revealed
2. Emory Eye Center Implants Its First Retinal Chips In Patients With Retinitis Pigmentosa
3. First atlas of key brain genes could speed research on cancer, neurological diseases
4. First-ever Compounds To Target Only Metastatic Cells Are Highly Effective Against Breast, Prostate, And Colon Cancers
5. NYCs First Rapid HIV Drug-resistant AIDS Case Prompts Call to Step Up HIV Prevention
6. Breast-Cancer Risk Linked to Exposure to Traffic Emissions at Menarche, First Birth
7. Mayo Clinic Researchers Create Obedient Virus; First Step To Use Measles Virus Against Cancer
8. First frozen egg baby born in Canada
9. Human Cells Filmed Instantly Messaging for First Time
10. First North American Encapsulated Islet Transplant without Long-term Immune Suppression into a Patient with Type 1 Diabetes
11. First technology to remove prions that cause vCJD from blood launched
Post Your Comments:

(Date:11/12/2015)... 12, 2015  Arxspan has entered into an ... Harvard for use of its ArxLab cloud-based suite ... The partnership will support the institute,s efforts to ... research information internally and with external collaborators. The ... managing the Institute,s electronic laboratory notebook, compound and ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... 2015 ... "Global Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" ... ) has announced the addition ... Market 2015-2019" report to their offering. ... ) has announced the addition of ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 29, 2015  The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) ... Synthesis and Biosecurity: Lessons Learned and Options for the ... and Human Services guidance for synthetic biology providers has ... --> --> Synthetic biology ... potential to pose unique biosecurity threats. It now is ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 HemoShear Therapeutics, ... discovering drugs for metabolic disorders, announced today the ... its Board of Directors (BOD). Mr. Watkins is ... Human Genome Sciences (HGS), and also served as ... Jim Powers , Chairman and CEO of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 , ... a European healthcare fund ... companies will work closely together in identifying European breakthrough technologies ... need. The collaboration is underpinned by a significant investment by ... is the first investment by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a European ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... YORK , Nov. 24, 2015 According to ... than in 2005. This is something that many doctors, scientists, ... time. One questions remains: with fewer PSA tests being done, ... ? Dr. David Samadi, "Despite the ... the disease remains the second leading cancer cause of death ...
(Date:11/23/2015)... 23, 2015   Ceres, Inc . (Nasdaq: ... results for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2015 ... --> --> During fiscal year ... feed products with a better balance of yield, energy ... agreements with several leading crop input providers and made ...
Breaking Biology Technology: