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Researchers discover how retinal neurons claim the best brain connections
Date:10/31/2013

Real estate agents emphasize location, location, and once more for good measure location. It's the same in a developing brain, where billions of neurons vie for premium property to make connections. Neurons that stake out early claims often land the best value, even if they don't develop the property until later.

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the University of Louisville have discovered that during neurodevelopment, neurons from the brain's cerebral cortex extend axons to the edge of the part of the brain dedicated to processing visual signals but then stop. Instead of immediately making connections, the cortical neurons wait for two weeks while neurons from the retina connect to the brain.

Now, in a study to be published in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Cell Reports, the scientists have discovered how. The retinal neurons stop their cortical cousins from grabbing prime real estate by controlling the abundance of a protein called aggrecan.

Understanding how aggrecan controls the formation of brain circuits could help scientists understand how to repair the injured brain or spinal cord after injury or disease.

"Usually when neuroscientists talk about repairing injured brains, they're thinking about putting neurons, axons, and synapses back in the right place," said Michael Fox, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and lead author of the study. "It may be that the most important synapses the ones that drive excitation need to get there first. By stalling out the other neurons, they can get the best spots. This study shows that when we think about repairing damaged neural networks, we need to consider more than just where connections need to be made. We also need to think about the timing of reinnervation.
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Contact: Paula Byron
pbyron@vt.edu
540-526-2027
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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