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Brain cells work differently than previously thought
Date:8/19/2007

Irvine, Calif. Scientists know that information travels between brain cells along hairlike extensions called axons. For the first time, researchers have found that axons dont just transmit information they can turn the signal up or down with the right stimulation.

This finding may help scientists develop treatments for psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia in which it is thought that different parts of the brain do not communicate correctly with each other.

Until now, scientists have thought that in the brains cortex -- where most cognitive processes occur -- information was only processed in the cell body, said Raju Metherate, author of the study, associate professor of neurobiology and behavior, and director of the Center for Hearing Research at UC Irvine. The result of our study suggests that we must consider the axons as sites of information processing and of potential problems when things go wrong.

This study appears online Aug. 19 in Nature Neuroscience.

Increasingly, studies are beginning to show that complex information processing, and perhaps consciousness itself, may result from coordinated activity among many parts of the brain connected by bundles of long axons. Cognitive problems may occur when these areas dont communicate properly with each other.

Cognitive function occurs when millions of brain cells communicate with each other at the same time. A brain cell has a network of branches called dendrites through which it receives and processes information from other cells. The body of the cell then relays the processed information along an axon to a terminal that links to another cells dendrites. At the terminal, chemicals called neurotransmitters are released, allowing the information to enter the receiving cell. Until now, scientists believed axons were just the wires between point A and point B.

Axons, we thought, were like wires in a radio conveying signals, but we foun
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Contact: Jennifer Fitzenberger
jfitzen@uci.edu
949-824-3969
University of California - Irvine
Source:Eurekalert

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